Chico Center for Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy and Counseling services for Children & Adults | Support for Parents


Chico therapist An Bulkens, LMFT is psychotherapist and counselor in Chico, California.  An Bulkens specializes in psychotherapy and counseling for young children  (toddlers, preschoolers, adolescents) and support for parents, with a special emphasis on  early childhood psychotherapy, and counseling  for preschoolers and Kindergarten aged child.  She also offers parenting skills support. She offers psychoanalytic psychotherapy for adults.  Her approach is grounded in  Lacanian Psychoanalysis. She was also trained as a clinical psychologist in Europe, Belgium.  Her education emphasized developmental psychology and psychoanalytic therapy. 

Chico Parenting Support: free parenting workshops

I wanted to share some information about upcoming parenting workshops.  I have been planning on starting a reflective parenting group but it is still in the works.  I would like to share the parenting workshops that are coming up, conducted by Lynn Haskell.  Lynn has been active in the community working with parents and young children for many years, and will be offering the free parenting workshops at Butte College.  The workshop 'NO DRAMA DISCIPLINE' is based on the book by Daniel Siegel, MD and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD. It is an interactive workshop that includes exercises and group participation.  The focus will be on parenting pre-school to school age children.

May 24    Week 1/4  Rethinking Discipline, your brain on discipline

May 31    Week 2/4  From tantrums to tranquility: Connection is the key

June 7    Week 3/4  1-2-3 Discipline: Redirecting for today, and for tomorrow

June 14 Week 4/4  Addressing Behavior: As simple as R-E-D-I-R-E-C-T

To sign up call Butte College Foster/Kinship Care Education at 530-897-6235 to sign up.



The Cost of Helicoptering and Snow-Ploughing your Child

Psychologists from the University of Mary Washington looked at how the parenting style of 'helicoptering' correlates with the self-determination and well-being of college students.  297 Undergraduates students (18-23) described their mother's typical parenting behaviors, as well as their autonomy and competence, their anxiety and depression, and how satisfied they were with life in general. 

The students who described their mothers as more helicoptering were  found to suffer more from anxiety and depression, and felt less autonomous.  They were also struggling more to get along with others. 

In two different studies it was found that young adults with helicopter parents have become addicted to affirmation, that they prefer the boost of self esteem over having sex, eating sweets and drinking. 

When children are praised for accomplishments, achievements they tend to read this not as the parents intend to.  They think: 'You love me for what I achieve, accomplish; this means you don't love me for who I am without my accomplishments.' They feel that they can only get love by earning it. 

Another problem is that this kind of parenting, where the parent is so over involved with the child, more than with the people of his own age class is detrimental for a more deeper reason. Why does the parent have to be so focused on the child? Why does the parent have to find satisfaction for her own life vicariously through the child.  The French Psychoanalyst Francoise Dolto pointed this out long time ago. In the introduction to Mannoni's 'The First Encounter with the Analyst' she mentions that the one crucial component in having a healthy development of the child is that the parents find the reason and meaning of their life in their spouse, or people of their own age, and not in their children.  This means that the thinking and worries about this child, that work done for this child and the love for this child never dominate the parents' emotional life. 

It is indeed the very opposite of helicopter parenting.  It is interesting that like Dolto would have predicted it is specifically this kind of parenting, which goes against the one fundamental environmental condition that Dolto mentions for healthy development that is found to be connected with an increase in mental health issues among young adults. 

To schedule an appointment call An at (530) 321-2970

Reflective Parenting to build a community where each person is respected

Some parents of young children have called me in the aftermath of the election with the request for a parenting support group consisting of 'like minded' parents, who want to instill values of anti sexism and anti racism in their children.  It has been reported that currently at schools the bullying has increased as this type of behavior has become more acceptable and seems to be normalized.  

In the aftermath of this I am considering to start a new parenting group according to the principles of Reflective Parenting.  It is by being able to keep in mind the mind of the other we are communicating with, rather than being purely 'reactive' that we can build a strong connection with another person and thus a strong community.

The problem at this point is that the groups in our society are so insular and locked up in their own views, identities, that there is not much room for conversation and dialogue between those people. Rather than just being with like minded people, the important step would be to be in conversation with the person who has a different point of view.  Rather than focusing on how other people are the same as us, it might be a good exercise to listen for how they are different.  This kind of mentalizing skill might be what can help parents in their relationship with their children, but can also help bigger communities.  

If you are interested in participating in a group that will help increase reflective functioning. You can contact me at (530) 321-2970.  For more information you can visit the website of

Sensory motor play in early intervention

Robbie Levy, an OTRL who founded Dynamic Kids in New York, a practice that partners with NYU in graduate research came to talk in Chico.  She described how the children that are brought to her are increasingly younger, and also have a shifting presentation.  Where in the '90s there were more motor issue, the current presentation is dysregulation and anxiety. 

There are multiple issues that contribute to this changing presentation.  Children are from a younger age exposed to media.  The average 3 to 5 year old child spends 5 to 7 hours per day with media.  While the guideline is about 1 hour per day. And NO technology for children between 0 and 2 years old.  When a 3 year old spends that many hours on technology, she does not have enough time for physical movement, outdoor time, exposure to develop other than visual and auditory senses, time with manipulatives, quite, contemplative time, or pretend play...Another issue is when the parent tends to be on the phone as well.  This reduces the interaction time between the child and the parent. This interaction is important for the learning of the child, as it is during those interactions that the parent can scaffold the child's knowledge, and this interaction is most important as it helps the child to regulate. And this is were things seem to go wrong currently, as a typical general education kindergarten looks more like a special ed kindergarten looked like a generation ago.  Currently between 30 and 60% of children in a regular kindergarten class qualify for OTR services. 

What is needed is a real change in culture.  A lot of our current practices, not just technology contribute to the dysregulation of the children, leading to the need to introduce meditation and yoga practices in school.  In the following posts I will share some ideas about how to implement some ideas that can make daily life a bit easier if you are living with an easily dysregulated child. 

To schedule an appointment call An at (530) 321-2970



Talking to your child about sexuality.


According to new research  90 percent of children learn first about sex through online pornography.  Without ever been talked to, or addressed about this by their parents or other adults of importance in their lives. This first encounter with porn happens on average at age nine.  Although pornography use is more prevalent among boys, girls are viewing it as well.

Porn functioning as sex education at such an early age, might lead to an understanding of sexuality that can puzzle, and haunt a child into their adult years.  When sexuality becomes reduced to porn, children receive a very limited and distorted view of sexuality. The viewing of bodies getting off on each other eclipses a whole realm of desire that is far more complex and subtle, but will not get addressed in an industry that is catering to helping people 'get off.' 

Adding porn as an ingredient to America's sex education is not going to be all that helpful. The state of sex education in the US is limited to 2 options: abstinence or safety. Abstinence means no education, safety is focused on 'hygiene,' and leaves the whole realm of desire and other aspects out of the picture. 

The reason for this is that there is shame and awkwardness running through these discussions.  When a curious child is confronted with an awkward conversation, which brings forth the discomfort of the parent, the child will turn to the internet, leading to probably more guilt and hiding. 

It doesn’t have to be this way as I have argued before.  In my practice I encourage parents to have many age-appropriate talks over the course of many years.  For example, with a 3 year old you can start using the appropriate names for the body part.  With a 4 or 5 year old you can start talking about where babies come from.  your child is three to five years old you can discuss topics like sexual intercourse, including boundaries, puberty, a woman’s menstrual cycle, pornography, and sexual abuse. From ages eleven through fourteen, have more dialogue about puberty, and more complex questions about sexuality.

By encouraging these kinds of consistent talks, by overcoming feelings of awkwardness (which implicitly send the message that there is something wrong, or bad about sex) parents can create a climate in which children will feel comfortable coming to talk to them.  They become someone their children can trust to talk with regards to this area of their life.  

To schedule an appointment call An at (530) 321-2970

6 challenging times with your young child according to Brazelton

Berry Brazelton is Clinical Professor of Pediatrics Emeritus at Harvard Medical School as well as the founder of The Brazelton Touchpoints Center at Boston Children’s Hopsital.  He was awarded a Citizen’s Medal by President Obama.  He was also named a Living Legend by The Library of Congress.

Brazelton’s work emphasizes that there is no right or wrong way to parent.  Every baby, every child is different.  If one approach does not work, another can work.  ‘Learning to be your child’s parent is about having an experimental, trial-and-error mindset.’

The difficulty moments for parents are when children reach certain touchpoints.  According to Brazelton they are predictable developmental points, but parents typically think that there is something wrong with their child.  They get anxious, it might be in those moments that abuse becomes more likely.  They might think that there is something about their parenting that is not quite right.  They might get upset with their child.  It is here that the parents will need extra support.

According to Brazelton there are 6 touchpoints:

-Unexplained, end-of-day fussing that starts around 3 weeks.  This can be very difficult for parents as it is unexplained, and very hard to sooth.

-At 4 to 5 months, the child can focus the eyes much further from the breast which might make feeding more difficult, possibly leading to conflict between parent and child.

-Between 7 and 9 months the child start to point.  The parent can feel bossed around.  They can put crawl and put little objects in their mouths. 

-At age 9 the child start to read the parent’s nonverbal cues.  At this point the child start to test the limits. This can be a shock for parents.

-At age 2 there are the temper tantrums, the ‘terrible twos.’

-Then there is the toilet training which does not have to be a struggle, but often is, and can end up becoming a battle of control.

-At age 3 there is the ‘I want to do it myself’ issue.

All these touchpoints are moments where the parent can start ‘arguing’ with the child, but possibly also with the other parent, which complicates the situation. However, they are moments of growth for the child, and can also be moments of growth in the relationship with the parent. 

To set up an appointment you can reach An at (530) 321-2970


Your child off to college? Left with an empty nest?

Did your child leave for college, and are you left with an 'empty nest?' Chances are that you do not feel 'empty' at all.  Chances are that you are handling the situation pretty well. In a comprehensive study about parents' well-being when children leave home, Genevieve Bouchard concludes that the consequences of children leaving the parents is relatively positive. Other studies also indicate that 'empty nest syndrome' is largely a myth.

That being said, it is a fact that interaction and activity patterns between parents and child have to be modified for the family to persist.  And that families have to adjust to the new situation. The system is being profoundly modified. 

Becky Scott in 'Life in the Empty Nest' gives the following advice:

1. There is no 'right' way to cope:

Just like with pretty much everything in parenting. Although parents would like to have the one right way to approach a problem, an issue with their children, there is not one right way.  Each family, each parent and child have to find a way that works for them.  There is no formula, but there is room for creativity.

2.  Communicate

With your child to come to an agreement about how often you will be in contact, with your spouse how you will fill your child free schedule.

3. Address and resolve conflicts immediately.

As both children and adults are adjusting into their new roles, it can be stressful for both parties.  The pain and conflict that can emerge during this time is not a new conflict, but typically something old. It might be the time to take a closer look at this.  I think of a mother whose very old feelings of abandonment were triggered.  Although she wanted her child to become independent, she was perceiving his striving for independence as an abandonment, a rejection.  The difficulty this woman was facing was how to find a balance between supporting her children and letting them learn on their own.

4. Finding balance between independence and connection

You want to support your child fostering interdependence.  His or her support system should include his family of origin, but also new friends, college... It might be hard to let go of being the only one or main one protecting and supporting your child.  

How do you think you might feel about your children leaving the house?

To schedule an appointment call An at (530) 321-2970


Your child's creativity and it's GPA.

Counseling centers at universities and colleges have been overflowing with emergency call.s  At one university it was stated that over the past 5 years emergency calls to the Counseling center had doubled.  Students are increasingly seeking help not just regarding issues like depression and anxiety, but regarding on the surface banal problems that seem to occur in everyday life.  An example was a person who felt traumatized because a roommate called her the B-word.  Or a student who called the counseling center because he saw a mouse.  Or even getting a B or a C can activate a student to call a therapist, as it is considered often as 'failure' are a reason to call the counseling center.  This current trend seems to indicate a decline in resilience among young adults. Colleges are struggling.  Traditionally their mission was to busy themselves with higher education, but the lack of resilience to address typical problems seems to demand that the university and professors also take on the role of substitute parents.  They wonder how much hand holding has to be done.

Peter Gray, the author of Free to Learn connects this decline in resilience with the dramatic decline in children's opportunities to play, explore, and pursue their own interests away from adults.  Among the consequences he states are well-documented increases in anxiety and depression, and decreases in the sense of control of their own lives.  This generation of children has not been given the opportunity to get into trouble, make mistakes and solve them.  Gray thinks that 'helicopter parenting' is at the core of the problem, but he makes clear to say that it is not the parents who are to blame.  We are living in a 'helicopter society.' He states that if we want  to counter these social forces, we have to give the children the freedom and practice to take responsibility for themselves. In the current society, children and parents alike are victims of the increased power of the school system and a schooling mentality that says that kids develop best when carefully guided and supervised by adults.  

We could see in everyday life and my practice with children and their parents that this plays out in the attitude towards grades. Often anything under an A is considered inadequate.  The focus on GPA becomes so central, as it is taken as the indication of future success or failure. What controlled research studies are currently discovering is that there is either no correlation, or even an inverse relation between GPA and Innovative orientation or creativity.  A study at NYU found that there was an inverse relation between students' reported GPA and their orientation towards creative or innovative work. One of the possible explanations was that possibly students with propensities toward innovation are less concerned with grading systems that rely on memorization.  Or, college going students with innovation intentions may be more likely to approach their education as a means to discover new ideas, wanting more out of the experience than a series of external valuations. 

So, in today's helicopter society it is harder for students to build upon their natural curiosity and creativity. As parents, it might be our task to not fall in the helicopter trap, and leave the door open for growth towards independence, and leave room for creative exploring of interests, rather than focus too strictly on GPA.

You can contact An at (530) 321-2970/




How parents can help kids through their separation.

One motivation for a parent to bring a child to talk to a counselor or therapist is when the parents are going through a separation or a divorce.  Parents, aware of the conflict between them are often sensitive to the need of the child to have a neutral space to talk, to put things in perspective.  It is this neutral space from which to respond to their child’s implicit or explicit questions which has been lost.  The parents are at odds with each other, feel angry and hurt.  The child picks up on these emotions no matter how good the parents try to hide it, and parents are often at a loss of how to speak about their emotions to the child without attacking the other parent whom they feel so hurt by. 

An initial step would be for the parent to be aware of this underlying emotion, and to be able to name this emotion, acknowledge it.  This will allow the parent to recognize it toward the child in a more neutral tone, without the underlying, for the child confusing affect.  The child picks up on the underlying, diffuse anger that you are trying to hide, but if you can tell him as you are aware of your feelings you can say: ‘You know, I am very angry with your dad. We have a big disagreement, we are trying to work it out. I am sorry that I have been a bit short tempered, but our dad and I are working on it.’

Parents who are caught in a heated separation also tend to forget the good aspects about the ex, and the father of the child. And they might not realize that be painting this negative picture of the child’s other parent, they are at the same time painting a very negative picture of their child. Being able to acknowledge to your child your conflict, but also maintaining a space to talk about the positive aspects of the other parent will be an enormous support to the child.

Also being aware that you and the other parent share the same goal of nurturing secure children can be a common goal that allows you to connect, and transcend a space of hate and resentment.


Contact An to schedule an appointment at (530) 321-297

How to raise helpful kids.

As a therapist working with preschoolers, and prior to that as I worked closely with preschoolers in a nursery setting, it was a typical observation to see parents make their child share a toy with another child.  And the child's refusal to comply would lead to frustration of the parent, and the parent would often ask for advice on how to handle this.  It seems that the general assumption is that little children are selfish. 

Research by Warneken and Tomasello (2009) has researched the spontaneous prosocial behavior of little children.  Little children are spontaneous kind, and helpful.  This might baffle some parents as it might go against the experience that they seem to have with their children.  

The research found that children show the fist signs of empathy very early in life.  In on study (Roth-Hanania et al. 2011) found that babies under 12 months noticed when other people were in distress. 

Warneken and Tomasello tested 14-month-old basis by presenting them with a stranger in difficulty. The babies spontaneously helped a man, who seemed to be in difficulty to pick up an object, retrieve the object.  In most cases the babies responded within 7 seconds - before the man made eye contact or named the object.  

In another experiment 18-month old babies helped a woman retrieve an out of reach object even though they had to overcome several obstacles first. 

As they get to preschool children become able to help in more sophisticated ways.  There might be many factors at play in this ability, but it also seems that kids really enjoy helping.  It makes them happier. 

Why do so many parents feel that their child is not so generous? The key is free choice, and not coercion.  Forcing your child to share a toy, rather than giving him the choice, will make the child less generous.  

In a similar experiment to the one mentioned in an earlier post, 72 young children between 3 and 5 were given a sticker.  A sad character in need of some cheering up was introduced. Some kids were told to give the sticker to the character, others were given a choice. 

Later the kids were given 3 stickers, and presented with an opportunity to help another sad creature.  In both groups, the kids gave away at least one sticker.  But some gave more, and these were most of all the children who had experienced the chance to make their own choice. 

Research after research shows that routinely used tangible rewards makes children less motivated.  This does not mean that they are all bad.  They make increase motivation for boring tasks, but they may undermine motivation when kids are already motivated to perform the task, when the reward is promised ahead of time.

To schedule an appointment call An at (530) 321-2970




Learning about the world by creating your own world in art and play.

Before I started working as a psychotherapist, I worked with preschool age children in a small nursery school program that I had created.  I ran this little school l for about five years before opening my private practice.  One of the important things I was able to witness during my work with young children was the importance of play, and the typical high level of creativity, and natural creative exploration in young children.  You don’t have to teach a young child to play. You don’t have to teach them to be creative.  Children are naturally, deeply creative.


In a recent post, T. Goldstein states that 'any time a child does or learns something new they have to be creative in their own, small way. They have to come up with something original, which they’ve never done before, and something useful, which can be used to solve the problem they may be working on. Although this type of creativity may not be what we think of as being behind the great works of Picasso or Bach, the important connection between play and the arts cannot be overstated.'

It is easy for a young child to be creative before formal schooling, but it can be hard for children to keep that same sense of creative freedom once they’ve entered the classroom. Especially because of the current emphasis on curriculum standards.  This tends to lead to a certain rigidness of lessons and it deprives students of the best way of learning: through personal exploration and discovery.

This tendency has unfortunately entered early schooling as well.  Kindergarten is especially noted for moving away from child-directed activities and, 'disturbingly, towards high pressure teacher-led pedagogy.'  Goldstein mentions that 'engagement in the arts—which emphasizes personal ways of knowing, thinking about the self, and discovery—may be key to providing children with creative experiences.' 

In psychological and educational research on creativity, Goldstein states one often talks about different types of “Cs”: “Pro-C,” “Big C,” “Little-c,” and “mini-c.” “Pro-C” and “Big-C” are what we’re usually talking about when we use the word “creativity”—advances in the arts, engineering, or sciences with innovation and usefulness at the forefront. 

It is “Little-c” and “mini-c” that is critical to children’s growth, knowledge, and achievement. These can be thought of as the kinds of creativity children engage in when they’re discovering something new to them.  The process involved in this is foundational in later achievement and abilities.

How can we foster this capacity: One way is through engagement in pretend play and the arts. As children play they are creating a protected space for themselves to make mistakes and try out different emotions and social situations. Creating knowledge on your own is the best way to learn—children and adults alike will remember more, and know more deeply, material that they have taught to themselves over material explained to them. 

Sciences, math, and engineering do also require and engender creativity.  But at the elementary and middle school levels, much of the coursework in these topics is based on recreating knowledge that is already well established in those fields. 

The arts on the other hand demand creativity in the moment, constant trial and error, discovery, and mistakes. Goldstein mentions that 'in a detailed ethnographic analysis of high quality visual arts classes for adolescents, psychologists Lois Hetland, Ellen Winner, Kim Sheridan, and Shirley Veenema found that the key concepts being taught in arts classes—beyond learning how to hold a paintbrush or mold clay—were to stretch and explore thinking about materials and topics and to observe and reflect on how to engage in artistic work.'

It may be (and research is currently investigating this) that by learning these skills in an artistic way children will be better prepared for more traditional academic learning and creating their own knowledge. 

As parents we can make sure that our children can experience these kind of creativity engendering activities outside school life, which seem to be currently not feeding this need of children.

To schedule an appointment call An at Chico Center for Psychotherapy at (530) 321-2970

Coaching parents, to help kids.

'To help kids thrive, coach their parents' reads the title of a recent article in the New York Times.  It is based on the book by Paul Tough, 'Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why.'  

The article refers to a research that was conducted in 1986 in a few of the poorest neighborhoods in Kingston, Jamaica.  Its message was to help the children by supporting and coaching their parents.  The researchers divided the families of 129 infants and toddles into groups. One group received home vistis focused on encouraging the parents to spend more time actively playing with their children: reading books, singing songs, playing peekaboo.  Another group received a kilogram of milk-based nutritional supplement each week. The control group received nothing.   The intervention lasted for 2 years.  The researchers have followed the group of children since that time.  

The intervention that was focused on encouraging the parents to play more with their children had most effect.  Those children did better throughout their childhood, on IQ tests, aggressive behavior and self-control.  As adults they earn currently an average of 25 percent more per year than the children whose parents did not receive the home visits.  

More recent research has confirmed and has helped uncover how that changes takes place.  It is by encouraging parents to reinforce small moments, such as face-to-face exchanges, that attachment, warmth and trust between parent and child is encouraged.  It is these positive influences in children's early lives that have a profound effect on their noncognitive skills.  These are a simple set of emotional and psychological habits and mind-sets that enable children to negotiate life effectively insed and outside of school: 'the ability to understand adn follow directions; to focus on a single activity for an extended period; to interact calmly with other students; to cope with disappointment and persevere through frustration.' 

These skills, although harder to measure than skills like letter and number recognition are inordinately valuable in school. 

To schedule an appointment call An at Chico Center for Psychotherapy, at (530) 321-2970

Respecting your teen's privacy in a technology filled world

As a therapist working with children, teens and their parents the issue of how to deal with a teen's privacy in this technology filled world comes up on a regular basis.  I recently came across an interesting study by Cranor, et al, about parents' and teens' perspectives on privacy. It was interesting that most of the parents interviewed thought it was important for their teens to have privacy, that it was an essential element in their growth towards becoming independent adults.  It was interesting to see that the researchers found that the parents in general transgressed this right when it came to monitoring their children's use of technology.  They did not act in accordance with their believe in the importance of privacy at all.  The reason for this was a lack of understanding by the parents on which role social media played in the role of their children's social life.  The fact that popular media focus on those new technologies from a 'worst-case scenario' point of view also contributed to this effect. The reporting might give parents the impression that Snapchat is use mostly  for sending sexually explicit messages, while it is only a small fraction of teens who use it that way. 

The negative effect of this is that teens feel that their space is being invaded, and they feel they are not trusted by their parents.  All this can lead to a negative spiral of growing misunderstanding between parents and teens.  

The study finds that it is important that parents get better educated about these technologies, on the other hand, they agree that parents have an important role of guidance to play.  They advocate for software that is less restrictive but tends to nudge the teens more in the right direction.  The current digital monitoring software is not in tune with the goals of parents.  Parents want to guide, but not necessarily block certain sites. 

Digital parenting software that would be more in tune with parents' objectives would detect actions that a parent might not approve of and take the opportunity to remind the teenager of the parent’s expectations and the teen’s responsibilities, yet not block the action.  In a field trial of privacy nudges for Facebook, Wang et al. found that visual reminders of a family member being able to view content was effective in encouraging privacy-protective behaviors The nudging approach to digital parenting software might alleviate parent-teen tensions because teens would still be free to make their own decisions, albeit with guidance and reminders.

To schedule an appointment call An at (530) 487-4245.

For the study, see: Cranor, Lorrie Faith, et al. "Parents' and Teens' Perspectives on Privacy In a Technology-Filled World." SOUPS. 2014.

Rewarding your child with material objects, can lead to worse behavior.

As parents we have been told that positive reinforcement creates more good behavior.  Some money for cleaning your room, a movie ticket for getting good grades, extra x-box time for being nice to your brother. However, a study in the journal Child Development shows that our commitment to positive reinforcement can be counterproductive. This study shows that rewarding a child's sharing resulted in the child actually choosing to share less.

The study wanted to find out how many marbles 48 3-year-olds were willing to share with a puppet. During a game, it seemed as if a child happened to get three marbles while the puppet got only one. Half of the children noticed the difference and gave the puppet a marble without further prompting. If not, the puppet said, "I only got one marble" and then "I want to have as many marbles as you" and then, if needed, "Will you give me one?"

After the children had shared a marble, there were three ways of follow up.  Some children simply moved on without any feedback, others were praised ("Oh thank you for sharing a marble with me! That was really nice"). And a third group was rewarded with a little toy.

After certain time passed the kids were tested again—over three related but different games. The result was that children continued to equalize an unfair outcome after the experience of praise or a neutral response.  However, they shared less often after they had received material rewards! 

The study shows that there is a sense of fairness in young children, but that this sense gets corrupted in a way by tying it to a reward. When the reward was absent, so was fairness.   "Receiving a reward initially in the collaborative sharing context diminished children's motivation to share in new situations in which they had never been reinforced before," the paper writes.

Rewarding fairness makes children overall less fair on future tests. The message from this study is loud and clear:  "Parents and educators should be encouraged to rely on intrinsic motivation and reinforce feelings of autonomy and competence as much as possible rather than to provide superfluous material incentives, which can even have detrimental effects."

To schedule an appointment call An at (530) 321-2970


When your child claims the right to refuse treatment

As a therapist working with children and adolescents I am often confronted with a demand from parents to help their child.  It is typically not the child herself that picks up the phone and reaches out. Sometimes, when the parent calls the children themselves have asked their parents to talk to someone, but more often the parents call because they are concerned, and it is not sure whether the child wants to come in for himself or herself. And if they do, they might have quite different concerns. In cases where children do not want to come, or are hesitant I like them to commit to 6 sessions to give it a try, so that they can see whether it would work for them. Because, indeed, it is not because the child says he or she does not want to come, that she really does not want to come.  It could just mean that the child does not want to do what the parent thinks is best for the child. There is nothing wrong with that. Indeed, the child will have to see for herself whether she wants the therapy for herself. 

Parents often become confused when I put it that way, as they feel their child 'needs' the therapy, and it should not be left to them. My response is that therapy only works when a person can get engaged in it, and not when it is imposed by someone else. 

I came across an interesting article by R. Muller about a 17-year old girl 'who refused to undergo chemotherapy after being diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.  The Connecticut Superior Court ruled that as a minor, Cassandra did not understand the severity of her condition. She was taken to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, where she was forced to undergo chemotherapy.'

In an essay that recently got published the girl states:

“I should have had the right to say no, but I didn’t. I was strapped to a bed by my wrists and ankles and sedated. I woke up in the recovery room with a port surgically placed in my chest. I was outraged and felt completely violated.”

As her mother did not comply with the court ruling, and did not bring C. to her appointments, she was removed from her mother and placed in foster care.  C. argued that she cared more about the quality of her life than the duration. Yet she was told that undergoing chemotherapy would increase her chance of survival by 85 percent. Without it, doctors said there would be a near certainty of death within two years. C. acknowledged this risk, but maintained that she had the right to make decisions about her own life and body.

The mother supported her daughter's decision: 

“She knows the long-term effects of having chemo, what it does to your organs, what it does to your body. She may not be able to have children after this because it affects everything in your body, it not only kills cancer, it kills everything in your body.”

There is some concern that C's opinion on medical treatment could have been influenced by her parents. This issue is especially important given the far greater chance of survival offered by treatment.

At this age the right to independent decision making at this age is an important factor. In her essay, Cassandra writes:

“I am a human—I should be able to decide if I do or don’t want chemotherapy, whether I live 17 years or 100 years should not be anyone’s choice but mine.”

And it is important that this desire for independence should be heard.  Does this mean that any demand has to be immediately satisfied, because it is the demand of the adolescent wanting to be independent? Of course not.  It is important to hear and and worked through. 

A refusal to see treatment, whether it is chemotherapy or psychotherapy does not necessarily have to be considered an obstacle to the treatment.  It is an important message that needs to be heard, and that can be worked on.  And it is an essential first step in having a successful psychotherapeutic treatment with an adolescent. 

C. was discharged from hospital last April, after completing treatment. Prior to being released, she wrote on Facebook: “I have less than 48 hours left in this hospital and I couldn’t be happier!”

She reported that she was grateful that she responded positively to the drugs and was predicted to survive cancer-free. But she also added:

“I stood up and fought for my rights, and I don’t regret it.' 


Co-parenting your child

Counselors  and therapists working with children and their parents are often confronted with the difficulties for a child of living in two households. It becomes increasingly difficult for the child when the parents do not, or barely communicate, and when miscommunication between parents build up. As I mentioned in the last post, a common effect of this is that parents perceive that the child is lying. However, this 'lying' is an effect of the parents not communicating, and the child wanting to protect both parents, and wanting to please each parent. This 'lying' can add to the conflict between the parents, who think that the other parent is instigating the child to lie, leading to an increase in alienation between the families, and complicating the position of the child. 

The practice of shared parenting has been recognized by the research community and by legal and mental health practitioners as the preferred parenting arrangement after divorce, and being optimal to child development. It is recognized that shared parenting is the most effective means for reducing high parental conflict. Of course this applies to situations where there is no substantiated family violence or child abuse. 

However, in my experience there is a lack in services to help families to support in their shared physical custody. It often is just 'shared' with respect to the 'time,' and the 'sharing' at other levels seems to be left to the child (hence the tendency to 'lie'). For this collaborative parenting to be successful, there needs to be an accessible number of family relationship centers that offer family mediation and other relevant support services outside of the court system. In this county it seems that mediation is immediately linked to the 'court.' There is a need for governments to help establish such networks.  To help parents create an environment for their child where 'shared' parenting is not just a 'time share.' Because when it is only a time share, without any further communication between the parents, the divide between the parents can get so big, that it is as if a wall is constructed within the child. The child lives in one world when living with one parent, and in another world when living with the other parent. It is as if the child is not allowed to have 'shared parents.' Each parent thinks he is the only parent for the child, and acts as if the other one is not there. The effects for the child can be devastating even when 'on paper' there is 'shared custody.'

To schedule an appointment call An Bulkens at (530) 321-2970

Looking at things from your child's point of view.

Working as a counselor or therapist with parents and children who are stuck in spiraling, worsening relationships, it is clear that a lot of the conflict traces back to a disconnect related to an inability to take the other's perspective. Child and parent are each stuck into their own perspective, are frozen. 

It is my work as a therapist I help to 'defrost' those rigid perspectives and to help people look at things from a different side, a new perspective. Being able to do this is one of the most effective, and often ignored skills to have.  Gary Klein in a recent post mentioned a game that he played with his daughters called 'Switch' which implied arguing for one position in a debate, and then at the moment of 'switch' starting to argue for the other side. His grown daughter now feels that she has an edge over others in her profession as she can quickly 'decenter' and take someone else's perspective. 

Klein argues that this game of perspective taking can only be done with older kids. He might be right if we are talking about debating certain political issues. However, even with very little kids, when we 'mentalize,' express what we think is going on in their minds, we offer a model of perspective taking. When they have been exposed to this continuous reflective activity, where there minds have been 'mirrored,' where their standpoint has been validated, however imperfectly, by a person who is curious about their perspective, by the time they become teenagers they might have learned a way of flexibility that will allow them to look at their parents' perspective with a more open mind! 

To help a parent at times take a different perspective can be very difficult, as the position might have become so hardened, and so intertwined with very personal experiences.  

Some of the parents are very strict in the way that they perceive a 'lie' by their child: A lie is something that needs to be punished. This could be the case, but it would also be important to explore the underlying reason for the lie. Often in situations where the child lives in two separate houses, the lie is an effect of the child being stuck between two parents who do not communicate anymore, who undermine each other and who 'need' the child each in their very own way. The lies are the effect of a child that is stuck in between and does not know what to do, where to go. Being able to take on that perspective of the child, can help the parent better respond to the lies. There can be additional interventions, other than punishing the child, to help the child from a position where he does not have to lie anymore. 

To schedule an appointment call An at (530) 321-2970

The daydreaming child

Daydreaming: Not a Useless Waste of Time

Parents are often worried about their non-focused, 'daydreaming' child, who does not seem to be paying attention much to what the teacher or the parent is asking. In their book Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, Scott Barry Kaufman and Caroly Gregoire dig into creativity in a new way. They argue that daydreaming is a crucial part of the creative process, and for children to thrive as creative beings. 

According to a study by Harvard psychologists Daniel Gilbert and Matthew A. Killingsworth, we daydream forty-seven percent of our waking hours. Whenever we are the least bit bored, our minds naturally wander. In those hours of daydreaming we explore associations, we make connections, we search for possibilities.


Kaufman and Gregoire devote an entire chapter of their book to the topic of daydreaming. In fact, they present good scientific evidence that both daydreaming and using solitude for reflection are among the attributes of highly creative people.

In an excerpt from their book, Kaufman and Gregoire point out the many benefits of daydreaming:

Creative thinkers know, despite what their parents and teachers might have told them, that daydreaming is hardly a waste of time. But unfortunately, many students learn to suppress their natural instincts to dream and imagine— instead, they’re taught to fit into a standardized mold and to learn by the book, in a way that may not feel natural and that very well may suppress their innate desire to create. But as two prominent psychologists recently noted, “Not all minds who wander are lost”— in fact, the mind’s wandering is vital to imagination and creative thought*.

Nearly fifty years ago, psychologist Jerome L. Singer established that daydreaming is a normal and indeed widespread aspect of human experience. He found that many people are “happy daydreamers” who enjoy their inner imagery and fantasy*. According to Singer, these daydreamers “simply value and enjoy their private experiences, are willing to risk wasting a certain amount of time on them, but also can apparently use them for effective planning and for self-amusement during periods of monotonous task activity or boredom.”

Singer coined the term positive-constructive daydreaming to describe this type of mind wandering, which he distinguished from poor attention and anxious, obsessive fantasies*. By making these important distinctions, Singer was able to highlight the positive, adaptive role that daydreaming can play in our daily lives, under the right circumstances*. From the beginning of his research, he found evidence that daydreaming, imagination, and fantasy are related to creativity, storytelling, and even the ability to delay gratification*.

Of course, mind wandering can be costly when it comes at the wrong time, especially in regard to things like reading comprehension, sustained attention, memory, and academic performance*. The inability to control your attention when the task at hand requires it often leads to frustration, just as the tendency to get wrapped up in distracting negative thoughts can lead to unhappiness. But when we consider the fact that most of our important lifegoals lie far into the future, it’s easier to see how daydreaming might be beneficial. When our inner monologues are directed toward and measured against goals, aspirations, and dreams that are personally meaningful, the benefits of daydreaming become much more clear*.

Over the past decade, scientists have employed newer methodologies to investigate these potential benefits. In a review of the latest science of daydreaming, Scott and colleague Rebecca McMillan noted that mind wandering offers very personal rewards, including creative incubation, self-awareness, future-planning, reflection on the meaning of one’s experiences, and even compassion*.

Many parents worry about children who daydream excessively. And indeed, daydreaming can cause developmental challenges. In 2002, Eli Somer introduced the term maladaptive daydreaming to describe how it can interfere with academic, physical, and interpersonal functioning. When daydreaming inhibits healthy development, affects sleep habits, or increases negative behaviors, parents should seek professional advice.

For the majority of children (and adults) daydreaming is not only a good thing, it’s essential to our flourishing as human beings


Kaufman, S. B. & Gregoire, C. (2015). Wired to create: Unraveling the mysteries of the creative mind.(link is external) New York, NY: Perigee.

Killingsworth, M. A., & Gilbert, D. T. (2010). A wandering mind is an unhappy mind.(link is external)Science, 330 (6006), 932.

Somer, Eli. (2002). Maladaptive daydreaming: A qualitative inquiry.(link is external) Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy. 32:2-3, 197-212.




An Bulkens    |    Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist    |   MFC 52746

Tel. (530) 321- 2970    |   186 E 12th ST,  Chico, CA 95928