EXPLOSION AND FIRE IN CROSBY! The television newsflash triggered memories of an earlier explosion.  Wednesday morning, April 16, 1947, I was enjoying the sweet taste of an apple. My mother often sang or told me a story as she scraped pulp with a small spoon before placing the soft juicy treat into the mouth of her three-year-old daughter.  I recall that it was one of my favorite interactions with “mommy”.

That particular crisp, cool spring morning, she smiled, chatting and playing as if the spoon was an airplane flying into my mouth. I was certain that scraping apple pulp was hard work and felt very loved and special each time she fed me half an apple in that manner.

Mommy put the spoon down; our eyes met as she wiped juice from my mouth.  Her warm loving eyes filled with terror as a deafening roar boomed from the sky. Within seconds that seemed like eternity, thunderous sound waves crashed around us, shaking the house and hurting my ears. Breathing became difficult.  Whimpering from fear and pain,  I covered my ears with my hands. My mother lifted me and ran to the comfort of her bed where she hugged me close to her body; I clasped Brownie, my teddy bear tightly.

Daddy had left much earlier for his shift at the Humble Oil Company Refinery in Goose Creek, a small town on the Texas Gulf Coast that was eventually consolidated with Baytown.  I first met my dad less than one year earlier upon his return from serving in the U. S. Army Air Corps during World War II.  I was very familiar with mother’s wonderful stories about my daddy and his picture on her dressing table. Confused at being told a real man was my father, I skipped to the room that mommy and I shared, retrieved his picture and tried to explain to the young soldier that the picture was “Daddy”.  `

Aware he was away at war, I often pictured and worried about arrows and bullets flying toward my daddy.  Mommy (an ardent Bob Steele fan) had taken me to cowboy movies at the Jefferson Theatre in Beaumont, Texas. I assuaged my fears by imagining that I could protect him by wishing an invisible rock in front of him.  In my mind, no one, not even Daddy, was aware of the rock that was protecting him.

Today, when I counsel fearful or traumatized patients, I sometimes use guided imagery of invisible shields:  “Picture  yourself being encircled by those who love you (grandparents, parents, friends, pets). Now feel the powerful energy of their love surrounding and shielding from the energy of angry harsh words.  As they protect you, they give you some of their strength.  Can you feel it?” Many hours and dollars were involved in counseling and psychology training, including that strategy.  It amazes me that the mind of a two-year-old toddler came up with a similar therapy.

During the war, my mother and I lived with Grandmother Adair and my teen-age Aunt “Renie” (Irene).  I must have been a welcome distraction to my family of females from their worries about my father and step-grandfather who were both serving in the military. Showered with adult attention, encouragement and love, I grew strong and confident. Favorite memories include riding on the base of my grandmother’s Hoover vacuum as she cleaned the rugs; enjoying the sun’s warmth shining through the screen door while playing with Brownie, my teddy bear; and waiting for my aunt to fall asleep first whenever she tried to help me take a nap.

Children naturally make choices early.  In my second year, I decided that having to sit facing a corner when I disobeyed was too boring and unfair.  I slipped out the back-screen door, climbed up into a small tree, and hid among its leaves. There  I remained, watching my family and police officers search the yard for me, looking under the house and a storage/laundry building.  Only when rain began to fall did I slip slowly out of the tree to reveal myself. 

 Most children are constantly watching, hearing and coping with the world around them.  I adjusted quickly to living with a real dad.  However, leaving my nest of pampering females took much longer.  My Grandpa Charlie remodeled his Highlands, Texas home to accommodate our young family of three.  The home was built at the top of a slope that stretched gently downward to the rich river bottom lowlands edging the historic San Jacinto River.  It was only eight miles from Dad’s new job, seven miles from Crosby and 48 miles from Texas City. Thus, the Crosby/Texas City link was prevalent.

First memories usually occur from latter part of the first year through second year of life. They tend to correlate with strong sensory (vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch) experiences and with initial verbal skills. Sensory responses to traumatic events of are recorded in memories.  During treatment for PTSD, memories involving each of those are addressed.

 My first memory is of receiving a slap on my cheek from my startled mother when I chewed hard on her while nursing to relieve painful, itching gums from teething.  The ability to recall events, thoughts and feelings from my early childhood has been valuable to my career in psychology/c

 Children begin making choices early. Soon after the teething incident, I began drinking evaporated milk sweetened with Karo syrup.  I recall enjoying the sweet taste and refusing bottles without the syrup.  My cereal had to be sweetened with dried banana flakes. A desire for sugar had begun.

 By age three, my memories included traumatic events including parental absence, worries about danger surrounding my father, surviving a train crash, losses due to changes in my primary environment, and the effects of a major explosion.  Each trauma stored memories linked with my five senses: those from the explosion were visual (fear in mother’s eyes), auditory (loud noise), taste (apple) and touch (rocking of the house).

 Behavior patterns develop and grow stronger with use. Behaviors enable development of neural “paths” of  synaptic connections for each action. The more frequent a behavior response to a situation occurs, the stronger the path grows, and the more likely that behavior will be the response to similar events.

 Thinking before acting forms a positive neural path that benefits a person throughout lifespan.  Learning is at optimum level during the first years when our brains are rapidly developing. Throughout my career as a counselor and school psychology specialist, I have encouraged parents to teach young children how to think about outcomes prior to making choices. They are making choices early so why not teach them the process for wise choice-making.


Remembering and coping with the absence of a parent can be difficult and confusing for children. Children sometimes blame themselves, become fearful for safety, or angry at a parent for the separation.  It’s important to keep talking with your child about the issue, monitoring feelings and how to cope. Children may also benefit from consistent routines throughout the separation.It’s also important for children to feel they are keeping in touch with loved ones instead of hearing news or greetings second-hand.

Young children communicate trauma through play and body language.  It is always beneficial when a parent can reserve a special time (perhaps 20 minutes a couple of times a week) with each child to just play with toys together.  Toys should be chosen by the child.  The parent should not direct play activity but follow the child’s lead to enable the young one’s concerns to be naturally released.  Acknowledging the child’s feelings during the play activities is also helpful, i.e., “You are making the doll play just like you want it to.”

A physician and perhaps a professional counselor, social worker, play therapist or psychologist should be consulted if symptoms such as the following persist:  Intense and ongoing emotional upset, sadness or anxiety, behavioral changes, anger, difficulties with self-regulation, regression, loss of previously acquired skills, sleep difficulties, attention or learning difficulties.

More information is provided in my Keys to Parenting Magic books.  Each book is a gentle guide for parents, teachers and counselors. Reading pages and activities for children are designed to enrich bonds while teaching children and reminding adults what young ones need from them.


Early in my psychology career, I recognized the need for parents to be involved in their children’s therapy.  Individual counseling often includes a degree of family counseling.  At times, marital relationship counseling for the parents is also recommended. 

 My recent blogs have illustrated premarital counseling for a couple who are merging their families.  This fictional account focusses on a police family, but many of the issues presented in the series are applicable to all walks of life.

 I’ve successfully used the therapies described below many times, having been trained in workshops presented by Daniel G. Amen, M. D. and extensive IMAGO therapy training developed by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D.  Their books are referenced at the end of this blog.

This is working for us,” Paul began their third premarital session enthusiastically.  “The hardest part was the first time we talked honestly about our feelings.  I’d planned to make dinner for Melody and her children.  I’d made a salad, baked potatoes and the meat was marinating.  I’d expected them at 6:00, and made certain the charcoal would be the perfect temperature for grilling by then.  When they arrived at 6:30, I was able to admit I’d become frustrated and tense.  Meeting deadlines must be a trigger for me because they are so important in my work.  I’ve never handled surprises well.  I could be honest about my need to know of delays in advance.  It is becoming easier to express my feelings instead of avoid talking about them. “

Melody nodded in agreement, “Now that I’m aware of how Paul feels about timeliness, I can be more sensitive to his need and keep him informed when I’m running late.  Being open about our feelings is becoming easier.

Their counselor, Ms. O’Neal, was listening intently.  “Let’s explore this further.  Paul, can you think of a time in your childhood when you felt tense and frustrated because of having to wait for someone?

He thought a moment before responding, “This is strange, I can still recall a time when I was probably six; when I got home from school, no one was home and the door was locked.  I was scared.  Mother arrived soon.  She’d taken longer than she’d intended to shop for groceries. That happened several times, but I never got used to it.  I just felt that I wasn’t important enough for her to be home when I arrived.”

“It’s not strange at all,” Ms. O’Neal responded.  “Our values form early in life.”

Melody’s face had softened in tender empathy, “I had no idea how important timeliness is to you.  I never want you to feel that way again.  I’ll try to always be on time or keep you informed about any delays I have.”

“This is probably a good time to explore and talk about your values.” Ms. O’Neal continued.  “You each need to define what your individual values are so that you can make one another aware of them.  It is a better way to learn about one another than by trial and error.

“I need each of you to think of your personal values as you work on this exercise.  Your values influence the development of your character.  You wouldn’t be the same person without them.”


(List below anything that you perceive contributes/would contribute to your idea of a perfect relationship.  [e.g., go to movies, make time to talk daily, etc.]  Word each value as if it is a

relationship goal that you are already doing, but also include additional activities you would like to do in the future.  Don’t discuss or share them while you complete your forms.)


(1) ________________________________

(2) ________________________________

(3) ________________________________

(4) ________________________________

(5) ________________________________

(6) ________________________________

After each had completed the forms, Ms. O’Neal added additional instructions. “During this exercise, I need for you to practice listening intently to one another speak.  But first, you need to be aware that it may not always a good time to discuss important matters.  People should always check to see if the timing is right, for example, in this instance, Melody, you might say, ‘I would like to discuss my values and vision for our relationship.  Is this a good time?’  Then, Paul, you could respond, ‘This is a good time,’ or ‘I can be available soon, perhaps in an hour.’

Melody and Paul complied.  Ms. O’Neal continued. “Melody, read your first vision goal to Paul.  Then, Paul you are to repeat or mirror what you think she said until she confirms that you got it all. Then ask if there is more.”

Once again, the couple complied.  Ms. O’Neal instructed Melody to continue reading each vision goal in the same manner until her list was complete.  Then Paul was to take his turn reading his vision goals as she had.

Finally, they were to agree on which goals should be merged into a list of one vision for their relationship.  The final vision for their relationship looked as follows:



  1. Treat one another with respect.
  2. Try to accept and understand one another.
  3. Are loving to one another.
  4. Look for the good in one another
  5. Take time to enjoy conversations with one another each day.
  6. Take time to laugh together.
  7. Touch and love one another.
  8. Have patience with one another.
  9. Have date regular date nights.
  10. Important decisions are made after mutual discussion and agreement.
  11. Treat one another as we wish to be treated.

Both Paul and Melody were happy with their progress during the exercise.  Ms. O’Neal commented, “This vision for your relationship is important for you as a couple and as parents.  Your children need to see that you are happy together.”

She gave each of them an additional handout and explained, “Because you are both parents, can you see how important it will be to decide in advance what your values pertaining to your children are?  They need to know what is expected of them and that you stand together on your goals for them.  Family goals are more positive than family rules.  So now make individual lists of your values about your children.  You are to read your lists to one another and agree upon a mutual vision for your family.  Use your vision to develop  goals  for your family.  Show them to your children in a family meeting.  Listen to their opinions about the goal; discuss so that all understand them.  Then post your family goals where all members (including you) can see them daily.  It will be important to recognize that there may be times when each of you fail to meet a goal.  But with encouragement, you will all become more successful.

“Ideally, a home should be a safe harbor that promotes healthy growth, communication, listening and values.  It should be a place where each individual feels recognized and a sense of belonging.  At home family members, should be able to relax, release tension, repair, reorganize and re-energize.”

After following a similar process to the first, Melody and Paul created the following list:


  1. We tell the truth.
  2. We treat each other with respect.   (This means no yelling, hitting, kicking, name calling, or put downs, or blaming others)
  3. We take responsibility for things we do (accidents, doing things before thinking, forgetting to do things, or not doing them on time) and apologize, accepting consequences when necessary.  We know that everyone makes mistakes.
  4. We don’t argue with parents (as parents we want and value your input and ideas, but arguing means you have made your point more than one time – and expressing your opinion more than twice is arguing.)
  5. We respect each other’s property (which means we ask permission to use something that does not belong to us)
  6. We do what our parent(s) say the first time, without complaining or throwing a fit.
  7. We ask permission before we go somewhere.
  8. We put away things that we take out.
  9. We leave the bathroom clean. 
  10. We look for ways to be kind and helpful to each other



Amen, Daniel G., M.D. (2001) Healing ADD, New York:  The Berkley Publishing Group.

Hendrix, Harville, Ph.D. (1988).  Getting The Love You Want, New York:  Harper & Row.

Watts, Carolyn Ferrell (2013). Magical Years to Learn With Me:  A gentle guide for children, parents, teachers and counselors.

Watts, Carolyn Ferrell (2013).  Magical Power of Choice:  Parenting Magic Key III, Read-Play-Learn-Together Activity Book for Children From Birth to Eight And Parents too.


Paul and Melody were looking forward to their second counseling session.  Both were aware of the high divorce rate of 75% in law enforcement marriages and were committed to beat the odds.   Melodys’ first marriage had been to a police officer.  After it failed, she had idealized a criteria for the type of man she might allow in her life.  Law enforcement officers had not been on that list.  During their first session with Ms. O’Neal, she had familiarized them with a list of problems typically faced by  police families as well as helpful strategies for resolving such issues.

As they waited in their counselor’s reception area, both agreed that the awareness gained in their premarital counseling helped them feel more positive about merging their families. Both felt that becoming aware of problems typically faced by law enforcement families had enabled them to gain a sense of control over dealing with the hurdles successfully. The success of every kind of relationship (marital, parent, intimate, friendship, business) requires mutual commitment.  We tend to make commitments to causes that we want to succeed in.  Melody and Paul were wisely seeking premarital counseling before entering a second marriage for each, blending their families.

Their counselor wasn’t surprised that despite Melody’s experiences and criteria, she was considering marriage with a police officer.  People tend to be attracted to what is familiar to them.  Our subconscious minds recognize situations (good or bad) that coping behaviors with corresponding neurological pathways have developed for.   (The neurological pathways strengthen with repetitive application of the behaviors.  The tendency to behave in the same manner increases.)  Changes to unknown situations can stimulate releases of neurochemicals that cause discomfort while our defense systems determine safe responses.

Both Paul and Melody told of recovering from painful marital situations and divorces.  Ms. O’Neil began their relationship counseling with helping them look at their individual communication patterns during conflict situations.  (Our first natural tool for bonding with another involves communication.  It is the foundation for relationships, especially marriage.)

She asked each to complete a copy of the following questionnaire.  They were not to discuss their responses with one another until she led the discussion at the end of the exercise.

Melody’s responses indicated that during stressful disagreements she tends to hold her feelings in.  She preferred to make peace by accepting and complying with the instructions or requests of others.  At times she would try to make herself feel better by listening to music or taking a warm bath.  She reported that Paul seldom criticized or demanded much, but she could read his feelings by his facial expressions. “His jaw tightens and his eyes actually feel distant,” Melody explained.  “When that happens, he usually recalls an errand he needs to take care of.”

Paul agreed with her statements.  “It seems we both try to distract ourselves until we are calmer and in better moods.  When Ms. O’Neal asked if they talk about the disturbing issue at that time, both shook their heads.  Paul volunteered, “No, we just try to have more good times than bad times.  I see enough bad attitudes on the street.  I don’t want that in our home.”  The counselor smiled, and handed them a second page to the activity.

Ms. O’Neal explained, “Both of you are using avoidance strategies.  Melody is trying to hide her feelings from Paul and herself as well.  And Paul, you may be trying to hide your feelings as well, but your body won’t allow that.  I wonder if that is because you’re used to having the authority to control situations.  Both of you may be trying to do so for good reasons, perhaps to not hurt one another and to keep peace between you.  But in reality, feelings than are held in and not addressed will remain in each of you, festering and getting worse.  Leaving with no intention of discussing and resolving issues can damage relationships and make it easier to walk away from them.”

Enlightenment was obvious on each of her client’s faces.  Both wanted to improve their communication.  To fit the session time frame, their counselor chose I-MESSAGES, a simple communication method developed by Dr. Gordon Thomas for improving all relationships.  Ms. O’Neal explained, “I-Messages get rid of blaming, criticizing, judging, threatening and demanding.  They allow you to express what you want or need done to resolve conflict.  The process is a key that opens the door to effective communication for couples.  However, you may find it useful when talking with your children, friends and at work.

“Let’s practice this with a scenario:  Paul, picture yourself driving the two of you to a restaurant.  It’s raining hard and the traffic is heavy.  How does your body feel in that situation?”

“Probably tense.  Driving in heavy traffic is bad enough.  I’m always watching for idiot drivers who cut in and out of traffic.  Bad weather makes it even worse.”

“Melody, Paul’s mood reminds you of an earlier event.  You are unhappy about his response to the behaviors of one of your children.  You initiate a discussion about it.

“Paul, do you think it would be a good time for her to open such a topic?”

“Probably not.  Just thinking about it makes the muscles in my neck and shoulders ache.”

“So here is how the process should go:

  1. Calm yourself before trying to communicate. Breathe deeply five times; recall a happier time together. Calming enables better ability to express your thoughts.  The listener can focus on your words rather than on a response.  Emotionality can promote defensiveness, hindering communication for both the speaker and listener.
  2. Acknowledge your partner’s feelings, ‘I know you’re concerned and we need to talk about it.  I imagine you may even be hurt, because I talked with our daughter before discussing the circumstances with you.’  (When you begin by noticing how your partner feels, it helps her feel heard, understood and cared for.  The brain floods the body with joy juice, endorphins, rather than fight or flight juices, adrenalin and cortisol.  This enables less defensiveness and more openness for communication.)
  3. Tell how you feel in that particular situation without using the word YOU,  ‘But any time I drive in bad weather and traffic, I feel stressed and worried that I might make a mistake, causing a wreck.”   (When you say that your feelings are caused by situations (not people), the normal response is sympathy, not argument.  You make me feel is like a red flag waved in front of a bull.  It activates a body’s fight/flight system, releasing cortisol and triggering an automatic defensive response such as arguing, blaming, etc.)
  4. Tell what you need, I need for us to wait and discuss it once we arrive safely at the restaurant so I can give the matter my full attention.’ (Be specific to clarify misunderstanding and steps to be taken.)
  5. Rewards are optional, “It will be nice to sit and enjoy being with you in our favorite restaurant again.  The food will be good and the music soft.  It should be a nice place to work together, looking for the best qualities in our children and deciding how to handle things in a way that will help them.  Later, we can probably work in a desert and maybe a dance or two.’  (Rewards can put incidents into perspective.  It’s not the end of the world.)

After guiding Melody and Paul through the exercise a couple of times and giving them a copy of the instructions for I-Messages, Ms. O’Neal encouraged them to refer to the handout as a homework assignment.   An appointment was made to continue their therapy the next week.

This has been the second of a short series of blogs about the journey of two people preparing for marriage, blending two families.  Along the way, they learn to appreciate and love one another better.  Melody and Paul are fictional characters, not actual clients of mine. I developed their story to help illustrate some of the frustrations families face.  I learned early in my psychology career that couples’ therapy is critical to family therapy.  The blending of two families can be helped with family therapy.  Good communication skills set a foundation for future sessions.

The focus of this article is on law enforcement families. However, many of the problems described above are prevalent in families from all walks of life.  It is my hope that this story encourages them to seek counseling that is helpful from the beginning, non-blaming, educational, and interesting to the clients.

The counseling exercises included in the story have been successfully used many times in my office.  A form for I-MESSAGES for communicating with children is available in my book MAGICAL YEARS TO LEARN WITH ME:  A GENTLE GUIDE FOR CHILDREN, PARENTS, TEACHERS AND COUNSELORS.  It is available on this website, on and through Barnes and Noble Books.


I learned early in my psychology career that family and couples’ therapy is often critical to child therapy.  Children learn how to cope by watching their parents. The focus of this article is on law enforcement families. However, many of the problems described are prevalent in families from all walks of life (medical, legal, industrial, political, education, sports, fire fighters, retail, the arts, etc.).

Melody and Paul are fictional characters seeking counseling prior to marrying and blending two families. I developed their story to help illustrate some of the fears and frustrations families face.  Any similarities to real individuals is co-incidental.  The counseling exercises included in the story have been successfully used many times in my office.

It is my hope that this story will help couples and families understand the process and value of counseling.  I prefer Imago Relationship Therapy because it is non-blaming, educational, and interesting to the clients.

The Counseling Session


 “Policemen weren’t on my criteria list for dating.”  Melody’s statement brought slight smiles to their lips, not reflected in either set of eyes.  Her eyes sparked with anger and hurt.  Paul’s face appeared stoic, as when feelings are blocked.


The eyebrows of Ms. O’Neal, their new counselor, arched with interest; she smiled slightly to lighten the mood and keep it safe for continuing.  “You have a criteria list for people you date?”

Melody nodded, matching O’Neal’s smile.  “I didn’t the first time.  I was too young to think of anything but my emotions.  My first marriage was to Chad,  a policeman in another city,”  the new client clarified.  “His shift work, long hours and extra jobs robbed our family of a dad and husband.  Chad was never home. Eventually, it felt as if I was a single parent at our children’s school meetings, plays, ball games, and even on holidays.  It seemed as if I was raising our children by myself.

“The worst part was that Chad seemed to drift from our family, even as early as his rookie years.  His partner and other officers he worked with became more important.  We stopped having fun together and no longer had anything to talk about.  He was too tired or disinterested to spend time with us.  But, apparently it was relaxing and okay to spend our limited income on fishing, hunting, poker or staying out to drink beer with the guys … and sometimes gals.

“In the end, I believed we were more of his burden than his family.  Our relationship fell apart in every area.  When it began to destroy me emotionally and physically, I got out of the marriage.  I don’t want to go through anything like that again.

“I’ve been single for more than five years now.  I didn’t think I’d ever want to remarry at first.  Personally, I’ve grown.  During my marrage with Chad, I seldom felt competent.  Becoming independent, finding a career I am proud of and enjoying supportive friends have helped me feel successful in many ways.  I suppose I’ve formed ideas about the kind of people I want in my life, hence, my criteria list.”

Melody turned to gaze warmly into her fiancee’s eyes, then continued,  “I’ve known Paul long enough to appreciate the kind of person he is, despitebeing a policeman.”

Paul squeezed her hand and winked at her.  Encouraged, Melody continued, “I’ve seen how important family is to him. We met at our sons’ baseball games.  Our children are good friends.  Eventually, we began sitting together at the stadium to watch and cheer them on.  As we talked more, I learned that we’ve been through similar experiences.  Single parenting has been hard on both of us and our children.  Since meeting Paul, I’ve  begun to miss being a complete family.”  Paul draped his arm around her shoulders protectively.

Ms. O’Neal wasn’t surprised Melody was considering marrying a police officer despite her experiences and criteria.  She explained, “People tend to be attracted to what is familiar to them.  Changes to unknown situations can stimulate releases of neurochemicals that cause discomfort while our defense systems determine safe responses.  Our subconscious minds recognize good or bad situations that we’ve had to cope with before.  Some experts predict that people tend to select mates similar to one of their parents.

Paul’s brow furrowed as he considered her words, “I’ve never thought of that.  My ex-wife is easily angered when she’s worried or her expectations aren’t met.  She can express concerns loudly, yelling instead of talking about things.  My dad is quick-tempered like that.  Maybe I married my dad first.

“I’ve always been impressed by Melody’s calmness and ability to hold things together when under pressure.  My mom is like that; she quiets Dad’s storms and keeps their home feeling safe.”

“That’s a good lead-in for discussing some of the storms that law enforcement families face.”  Ms. O’Neal gave them a handout to study and led them in a discussion about it.


Both Melody and Paul related to the hazards that police families experience.  The couple agreed that seeing the written list of typical problems made them more aware of and better able to recognize when they were experiencing similar situations.  Paul asked how they might be able to change behaviors and responses that would help face them.

Ms. O’Neal emphasized, “Marriage should be one of the most important contracts that people enter.  As in business organizations, couples should develop plans to apply in the event of adversities.”  For homework, she gave them a list of helpful strategies which can prevent or lessen family difficulties homework exercises:

1.    Learn to communicate how situations/behaviors make you feel.  Make it a habit to communicate your actual feelings in a non-threatening manner instead of responding emotionally.


2.    Acknowledge one another’s feelings.  Feeling understood is half the victory.


3.    Try to focus on the positive.  For every negative thought about your spouse or his/her job, think of three positive aspects.  Make a list.


4.    Take time to discuss the potential dangers to police families and the direction that you want your family to go.  Make a list of the dangers and alternative ways to avoid or overcome them.  (Businesses set goals and options in the event of problems.)


5.    Plan time for something you enjoy together.  If you’re out of that habit, recall things that you used to have fun doing, and try it again.  Call one another during the day just to touch base. 


6.    Keep yourself busy and growing.  Share your thoughts and interests with one another.  Grow together and individually.
The counselor encouraged Melody and Paul to practice the strategies daily, explaining, “Men and women often face marital or family adversity as it occurs, then react emotionally.  Our bodies actually form neural pathways for each coping behavior we use successfully.  Those pathways actually strengthen each time we repeat the same behavior. So a tendency to behave in the same manner increases. But if you are aware of what is happening, you can respond differently and build new neural pathways.   Old behavior pathways will weaken.  Real change can usually be felt within 18 days.”


The success of every kind of relationship (marital, parent, intimate, friendship, business) requires mutual commitment.  We tend to make commitments to causes that we want to succeed in.  Melody and Paul were wisely seeking premarital counseling before entering a second marriage for each, blending their families. 

The story of Melody and Paul will continue in the next blog during which they learn an improved method of communicating with one another.



The Colonel in the Underground Balloon Corps


I am the first child of a WWII romance and marriage.  My parents, Dorothy Marshall and George Bernard Ferrell, were married August 2, 1942.  Shortly thereafter, my dad shipped out to North Africa as a member of the U. S. Army Air Corps.

My arrival in the world nine and a half months later helped divert the attention of my mother and grandmother, Ella Adair, from the absence of my father and grandfather, Glenn Adair, who were serving in the military.   The encouragement and positive expectations received from the two adult women and teenage Aunt Renie whom I lived with enabled me to strive, learning to walk by my sixth month and talk early as well.  I became a princess.

Memory development is triggered by sensory experiences correlated with verbal skills.  Mine commenced during painful teething experiences while still nursing.   The ability to recall early childhood thoughts and feelings has helped me better understand  young counseling clients.
There were many visits during my first years to the lively Irish-American home of my great grandparents, Emmett and Lizzie Regan Horn. They lived in a white gingerbread house across the street from a Catholic complex that included a cathedral, school, the priests’ home and the nuns’ dorm.
I misinterpreted the pale strict facial expressions and black winter garb of the sisters to be that of witches.  I ran from the porch and hid in  the house whenever I spotted one strolling on the sidewalk. Despite my fears, I was christened in the Beaumont, Texas, cathedral named after St. Anthony; I learned to dutifully wait for church chimes to ring and blessings be said before eating my meals.
When I met my dad for the first time, I was almost three.  Upon our introduction, I ran to the bedroom I  shared with my mother, took his picture from her dressing table, then tried to explain to him that the picture was my daddy, not him.  I wasn’t used to obeying the picture; some adjustments were needed on my part.
Before long, Dad moved us to Pelham, his quaint, quiet hometown in southern Georgia. It became obvious to me that I might not be a princess in the home if my new grandparents, Jesse and Marietta Ferrell.  My dad’s two brothers had been on ships in the Pacific while Dad served in Africa, then Italy.  My grandparents of the Ferrell clan apparently  needed their own princess for a diversion.  Aunt Mary is three months my senior.  Three- year-olds understand the hierarchy of age seniority, and that an aunt is due respect.  I also met a cousin three months younger than me.  For the first time in my life, I had child playmates. Our Aunt Mary was the leader whom cousin Libby and I vied for the attention of.
Marriages following short romance periods are risky, especially when the participants are strangers from different religions and cultures.  A Catholic girl from a mid-sized industrial port city such as Beaumont has a different culture from that of a Baptist family from a small farming town that is prideful of being one of the original thirteen colonies and the tomato capital of the world.  Mother didn’t quite fit in.  My Georgia family referred to her Catholicism as a voodoo religion.  We became Baptists.  Mom even taught Sunday school with my dad.

 During a vacation to Beaumont, young Texas cousins assured me that all Baptists, including me and my family, would end up in Hell.  Their words hurt me, but life had already taught me several lessons about coping by listening and observing, looking for good in both sides, adapting, accepting and appreciating differences.  I was fairly certain they didn’t understand that God doesn’t do that to good princesses and their families.    However, I still don’t like to hear another person’s faith criticized.

I have a lot of good memories of my father.  He taught me how beautiful a sunset can be and how to use it for making shadow animals on the wall with my hands. He told me funny stories about a pet goat he’d had as a child, but had to give away when it ate a neighbor’s laundry off their clothesline.  Once Dad told me that before the war he had wanted to go into the ministry. That was a side of him I was surprised about.  It helped me understand why he always saw that my sister, Teresa, and I attended Sunday school.  In my teen years I developed a love for water skiing and he provided plenty of opportunities for me to do so.

 Dad once revealed that he was offered an opportunity late in the war to go through officers’ training,  But it would have required his commitment to go to France for continuing to fight. He chose to return to Mother and me.  However, he thought things would have been better for us if he’d had a college education.  That became one of my strong values.
My dad never talked about his military experiences.  I was probably eight the day I heard playmates bragging about their fathers’ heroic experiences during the war.  I left our neighborhood softball game to run home and ask Dad what he had done during the war.  He told me, with a grin, that he’d been a colonel in the underground balloon corps.  Truth was a virtue in our family, and his story sounded impressive.   I ran back to explain my dad’s war experiences to my friends.  I saw the other fathers’ smiles and suspected something was not quite right.  I never asked Dad about the war again.
Years later, during my training and certification for treating post traumatic stress disorder, I remembered being awakened and running to my parents’ room the first time I heard Dad’s screams about being bombed and shot at.  My mother reassured me it was just a nightmare, that all was okay and I should go back to bed.  After that, I responded to his screams by hugging Brownie, my teddy bear, for comfort.
Dad remained untreated for PTSD.  He self-medicated with alcohol,  As a youth, I often wished he could be helped with his alcoholism but believed there was no treatment available.  I was a young mother when he died at age 52 while in a hepatic coma.
I’ve never attained certification for treating chemical abuse  However, I have advanced certifications for treating trauma, loss and grief.  Administering therapy to children, women and men, including those in uniform,  has been an honor and my small contribution to mankind. I never fail to think of my parents and sister after a session.  Violence affects whole families.  I hope that someday mankind can shift efforts from war and greed to building a world that provides our basic needs and wellness, including accepting and understanding others, peace and love.
The following pages a from MAGICAL YEARS TO LEARN WITH ME and SEE ME TALK, my read-play-learning-together books for children, parents, teachers and counselors.  




CASE STUDY 3:  Memories and development
Eva’s dad was militarily deployed before her birth. Her first three years were filled with her mother’s constant positive attention, nurturing and teaching; she began to walk and talk by six months of age.
Positive environment and frequent verbalinteractions with adults enabled Eva’s memories of early childhood incidents.  Notice some of the issues that were the focus of her thoughts:
First Memory:  While nursing, Eva pulled back on the nipple to ease herpainful, itching gums.  Her mother’s reflex was to ward off the attack with a slap. Eva’s brain registered shock and fear; her first memory was stimulated and stored!
Food Preference:  Eva recalls insisting her milk be sweetened and banana flakes from a blue and yellow can be sprinkled on cereal.
Pleasure, curiosity, maneuvering objects and ownership:  Eva liked to sit by a screen door, feeling the warm sun on her skin, using her finger to make the black dots in her teddy bear’s plastic eyes move. She wondered about the dust particles floating in her sunbeam.
Boredom and anger:  Eva’s discipline was to sit, facing a corner.  She recalls feeling bored and angry when so limited. She rebelled once and hid in a tree, watching searchers until rain forced her to reveal herself.
Remorse:  Eva was dismayed; her teddy bear was soggy after its bath in the toilet.
Shyness:  Eva recalls feeling painfully shy, hiding behind her mother, and wishing she could feel better when meeting a new child.
Worry and coping:   Eva was aware that her dad (the man in her picture) was fighting in a war. Because Eva attended western movies with her mother, she daydreamed of arrows and bullets aimed at him. Eva’s imagination created a large glass rock (that only she could see) to shield him.  It comforted her mind.
Concrete thinking and comfort with familiar:  Eva’s father returned just before her third birthday.  Initially, she rejected his claim to be her daddy; she showed him the picture that she had been taught was her father.
Judgment and sibling rivalry:  At age four, she was told of a new baby sister or brother that would be hers.  She was reprimanded for trying to lift the new baby and decided that adults had lied to her.  The baby really did not belong to her.  










A Workshop to be Presented at
The 2016 School Counselor Conference
January 31 – February 2, 2016
 “Our baby came without instructions!” 
This phrase represents a familiar lament among generations of parents.  Too often parenting is of the do-it-yourself variety.  For the most part, new parents deal with children the way their parents handled them.
OUR JOURNEY TO SUCCESS BEGINS EARLY IN LIFE AT HOME.  Home is where children observe and form views about LIFE.  Interactions (even in infancy) can stimulate neural connections for lifetime coping skills
 PARENTS ARE THE FIRST & PRIMARY TEACHER OF CHILDREN.   Parents have the strongest influence on young children before age eight.  When kids enter school, teachers share the realm of influence (to a lesser degree).  But during their eighth year, youngsters naturally seek to socially fit in with peers.  The desire for social acceptance generates a strong competition in the hierarchy of influence. 
Recent scientific research from arenas of education, medicine, nonprofit organizations and government agree:  Nearly 20 percent of children born in the US will perform at below grade levels by the time they are six or seven years old.  These are the same students who fit the profile of the typical school drop-out.
Early informed parental involvement is the missing key to success in educating/preparing children for fulfilling potential in school and life.  Failure in this area impacts future U. S. domestic and international economic success.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is now formally urging parents to read aloud to their children daily from infancy.  Doing so stimulates early brain development and helps build key language, literacy and social skills.  Many pediatricians now include daily reading on health check lists.  Some pediatricians recommend BBB time:  Bath, Book, Bed.  It works!
 A GOLDEN KEY TO SUCCESS IN LIFE!  Reading on a regular basis enables deeper bonding between children and parents. Interactive reading of books enables enhanced talking, playing, singing … and simply having fun together.  Planning time for reading together enables a bond that is not subject to diminishing when a kid turns eight.
I wrote MAGICAL YEARS TO LEARN WITH ME to function as a textbook for families.  It focuses on three specific childhood tasks:  Communication, The Job of Parents and the Magical Power of Choice.
 KEYS TO PARENTING MAGIC SERIES resulted from the idea that some parents may prefer to read shorter books about one subject at a time.  Therefore, SEE ME TALK, WHAT ARE MOMMIES AND DADDIES FOR? and MAGICAL POWER OF CHOICE  (together) provide information from MAGICAL YEARS TO LEARN WITH ME.  Future books of the series will reflect new topics.


Think of them as activity books that parents can use to enhance mutual understanding, strengthen the bond with their children, and improve two-way communication.  The overall goal is to better prepare young children for future academic and social success.  


Noted psychologist Abraham Maslow established  a hierarchy of needs that must be met for humans to fulfill their potential.  When the needs (as sequenced below) are met, children are better prepared for fulfilling their potential.:
  1. Basic physical functioning and survival needs (air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sleep, etc.);
  2.  Safety and security needs (security, order, law, limits, stability and shelter);
  3. Social Needs – A sense of love and belonging (family, affection, relationships and group);      
  4. Esteem needs – A sense of respect and confidence (self-esteem, achievement, mastery,       independence, status, prestige and responsibility);
  5.  Cognitive needs (knowledge, meaning, etc.);
  6. Aesthetic needs (appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc.);
  7.  Self-actualization needs (realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal    growth and peak experiences);
  8. Transcendence needs (helping others to achieve self-actualization).
During my career in school psychology, the importance of Maslow’s theory became very obvious.  I can still see the sweet faces of children I was observing for learning difficulties.  Can youconcentrate if breathing is difficult or if you’re hungry, tired, need to take a bathroom break, or worrying about conflict in you home? Neither can they.
 Bondingwith a caregiver is an initial need for the young or disabled who are dependant on others for survival needs.  Perhaps that is why infant smiles and cooing are so irresistable. 



CAN HELP people 
FULfill their potential.  


Parents have the most influence on young children. 
Review the above parts of the self each week for areas that you wish to improve.  
Make simple, specific goals that are worded as if you already as if they are currently instilled in your life.   See the examples below:
  • I model how I wish to be treated by speaking kindly and respectfully to my children. 
  • I provide healthy meals of protein, yummy vegetables and fruit instead of pastries or candy. 
  • I exercise by practicing yoga with a class every week 
  • I try to be positive and that helps enable me to concentrate on solutions for difficult situations.  I am much happier by staying positive as well. 
  • I teach my children to think about possible outcomes of choices before making decisions.  I coach, encourage and cheer them on, expecting their growth in making wise choices. 
  • I spend Wednesday mornings enjoying my art class.
  • My spouse and I discuss our values and create family goals based on them.  We tell our children about and help one another succeed.

It seems right to close this with a  quote from my book, 
 A gentle guide for children parents, teachers and counselors.


SURVIVOR DNA:  The DNA from two humans merges, enabling the emergence of new generations of species.   The history of each set of DNA is extraordinary, for it has traveled from ancient ancestors for thousands of years.  DNA adapts to life changes, increasing the probability of survival.  Throughout the ages, thousands of families failed to survive due to natural disasters, famine, disease, wars, etc.   I like to think that people who live today have survivor DNA.
NATURE:  Thus, humans are born genetically equipped to survive.  Infant brains constantly receive data from the five senses of vision, hearing, smell, taste and skin sensations.  That data is analyzed by the amygdala as being good/safe or bad/danger.
For example, when your baby’s skin sends the message that it feels wet and uncomfortable, a part of your infant’s brain, amygdala, codes the experience as bad, then signals that cortisol (alarm juice) should be released to flood the body, causing general discomfort.  The natural response of your child is to communicate distress (cry out for help).
 After you change your baby’s diaper, the skin sends a second message that it now feels dry and normal.  The amygdala judges that to be good, signals the release of endorphins (happy juice) causing your baby to smile.  The infant brain stores a memory of the incident for future reference; a neural pathway for coping is forming.  Crying out is not a “bad behavior” symptom.  It is a normal physical process of the baby’s survival system.
NURTURE:  Newborns’ brains enable them to breathe, eat, sleep, see, hear, smell, make noise, feel sensations and recognize the people close to them.  They are genetically prepared for development.  Ashley Montague, prominent sociologist of the 1960’s theorized that humans have a gestation period of 18 months, with birth occurring before the end of the ninth month.  He put forward that the normal birth process cannot accommodate a fully developed human head.  Therefore, most neural development occurs during the second nine months.
What I appreciate most about his theory is the possibility of heightened parental awareness that parent-child interactions vitally affect actual physical and emotional development.  Good and bad seeds that are planted grow.

Research now suggests rapid growth during the first few years affect neural connections involved in regulating emotions, language and abstract thought.  Both heredity and experiences significantly form the person your child will become.  All children need stimulation and nurturance for healthy development.
BODY LANGUAGE IS FIRST COMMUNICATION:  Your child is genetically prepared for learning to communicate with you from birth.  The baby watches and strives to understand your body language and sounds.  Your mutual bond grows with each use of body language this connection is vital for your child’s survival. 
Warm, loving feelings are shared as you look into your baby’s eyes and talk.  The brain’s natural happy Juices, dopamine and opioids, flood both your bodies.  Initial learning is fun!  Isn’t it logical that learning should be joyful throughout life?
Observation will remain a basic mode of learning that affects the development of behavioral patterns throughout life.  Parental conduct tends to be the primary influence on young children.  When they enter school, teachers’ influence enters that hierarchy.  By approximately eight years of age, the desire to fit in socially has become stronger.  From that time on, peer influence is a strong competitor with that of parents and teachers.


AN UNFORGETTABLE EASTER                             

          The lawn surrounding the American Legion Hall is filled with children searching for brightly colored eggs hidden among the flowers, shrubs and behind trees. A gentle breeze spreads wafts of fragrance from freshly cut blades of grass, warmed by the sun. Laughter and sporadic shouts of “I found one!” fill the air as boys and girls scamper everywhere. 
          This is my first big Easter egg hunt!  I’m not comfortable with all the noise and activity.  I glance at my mother, cradling my baby sister in her arms as she chats with Aunt Faye.  The urge to wrap my arms around her legs and hide behind her skirt returns.  I fight it by reminding myself, I’m a big sister now, almost five.
Wishing for the protective nearness and comfort of Daisy, my black cocker spaniel, I turn around, hoping to see a familiar playmate.  Where is Libby, my cousin?  Did Mary come today?  I notice Daddy watching me from the small circle of men nearby.  He nods his head at me, smiles and winks. Returning his grin and blinking both eyes back at him, I join the search, determined to fill the yellow basket on my arm.
It’s not as easy as it looks!  A lot of the kids’ baskets are already filled with rainbow colored eggs!  I think there is something yellow behind that tree root!  I reach for the treasure and tuck it into my basket.  Yes!  I can do this! 
The sun grows warmer.  Searching in places where I might hide one, I spot something blue behind a purple flower and run toward it.  An older boy rushes ahead of me, grabs the blue egg, then jumps around, waving it in the air for everyone to see!
By the end of the hunt, there are four eggs in my basket – one for each year of my age.  My cousin and I count our eggs together.  Libby hasn’t found many either, but we had fun!
A man wearing a soldier hat stands on the porch in front of us.   He gives a chocolate bunny to the big boy who found the most eggs.  A large chocolate egg is given to the big girl who found the most!  Everybody claps.  I like this part too! I’ve learned how to hunt eggs and might find enough at the next Easter Egg Hunt to win a prize.
I hear my name and look up at the man with the prizes.  Why did he call my name?!  Mother takes my hand and pulls me toward the front of the crowd.  “This prize is for the little girl who found the least eggs, but tried hard.”  The man hands me a plastic bunny filled with small, round, brightly colored candies.  Everyone claps again.  I know Libby tried hard too; why didn’t she get a rabbit with candy in it?  I wish Daisy were with me!
It’s late now.  We ate hamburgers for supper at Libby’s house.  Then she and I sat on the porch, sharing my candy.  We heard laughter when Daddy said that Mommy bought my plastic rabbit and asked the man in the soldier hat to give it to me so I wouldn’t feel left out!  Libby took my hand, smiled and thanked me for sharing with her.  I told her that I like playing with her better than getting a plastic rabbit.
I recall only snippets of other childhood Easters.  Most of those involve dipping eggs in bright colors and favorite candies.  I’ve learned that my mother often felt inadequate as a child.  Logically, she wanted to protect me from similar occurrences.  Ironically, I didn’t experience being “different from others” until I was awarded the plastic bunny.
April showers help enable seeds and plants to flourish.  Disappointments and difficulties provide opportunities to teach children good coping skills that, when practiced, enable the development of neural networks for coping behaviors that can serve them well throughout life!  Overly protective parenting tends to contribute to less helpful coping abilities.

In the above incident, I felt sad about my limited collection of eggs only after my mother acted to protect me from a logical outcome.  A better parenting strategy might have involved talking with me in a compassionate, but encouraging manner as follows:  

“Carolyn, I saw you looking for me before the hunt.  I wonder, did you feel shy at first?  Hmm, you say you did feel shy.  That makes sense to me; trying something new in front of strangers can be scary to me also.  But you seemed to have a lot of fun after you began hunting for the eggs.  I think you are a good Easter egg hunter, especially for your first time.  I am so proud of you!  Tell me something you learned about finding eggs today!  Then tell me two things that you really enjoyed!”