Thrive Parenting Week 4

At week four of the Thrive Parenting support group, Licensed Mental Health counselor, adoptive mom, super grandma, and one of our amazing small group leaders, Dena Johnson, lead our large group in thinking about the best resource to help our kids during this turbulent time – attending to our own emotional state. She gave us some scripts to use in challenging situations and some additional idea to not just survive, but Thrive during the covid-19 pandemic.


Start Here: Deal with your “stuff” first

As an amazing parent,  your desire to help your child during challenging times runs deep. The first and most important step in helping our kids deal with challenging situations is to attend to our own emotional state first. In her time with the Thrive Parenting small group, Dena Johnson challenged us to start by considering the following questions.

  1. How aware are you of your own anxiety and depression during this time?
  2. How do you communicate that to your children (unintentionally)?
  3. How do they pick up on your emotions?
  4. How can you communicate safety?
  5. What can you do to make this time worthwhile and a surprising gift?

A good starting place for any type of trauma/loss is to identify it and name it.  It’s very hard to process emotions that have not been named.

Put these scripts in your back pocket

Once you are able to identify your own emotional state, baggage or triggers, you can begin to help your kids do the same.

It is hard to know exactly what to say in the moments when our kids suddenly need us. It is a great idea to have some standard scripts ready to go. When you do, you’ll find yourself using variations of them over and over. Believe it or not, when you use them enough, your kids really start to believe those what you are saying. Here are some starter scripts that you can modify for your situation:

“I’m feeling pretty uncertain right now.  It makes me grumpy. I wonder if it’s the same for you?”

“I think if I were in your shoes I’d be awful scared about whether you will be safe or not.  Before you came home to us you had some confusing times when people who should have provided for you didn’t. “

“Wow kiddo.  This time is really confusing.  I bet it’s hard to trust me to take good care of you in the middle of all this uncertainty.”

“You know, I was thinking.  Your mom died from illness a few years back and now we are all facing some scary virus.  I wonder if that makes you more anxious about your safety? Or about whether or not I’ll be around to keep you safe.”

Cardinal Rule #1 when trying to help your kids feel better: Don’t ask what’s wrong

Most of the time our kids don’t know why they are having big feelings. They don’t need to answer a ton of questions right now.  But conversation starters where you “wonder aloud” can help allow kids to process their own feelings.

How can you communicate safety?

Our kids are super-de-dooper tuned into our emotions and moods.  It is a by-product of trauma that they are able to read moods and protect themselves. We must constantly remind them of the truth that we are the adults put in place to keep them safe and that we will handle our own feelings appropriately. Try some of these scripts:

“I know this is scary and confusing.  I just want you to know I am sooooooo old that I’ve had lots of experience with this kind of thing.”  (even if you haven’t)

“You know, I take a lot of classes and talk with a lot of people about how to handle hard things like this.  I’m sort of an expert. You don’t need to worry because I’ve done a lot to prepare for this very moment.”

“Did you know that foster (adoptive) parents have to take a lot of classes and spend a lot of time getting ready to bring you home and keep you safe? Yep.  That’s my job and I’m really good at it.”

“You may have noticed I was really short-tempered yesterday.  I am sorry about that and I’m working really hard to take the best care of you in this crazy time.  Sometimes that makes me tired or worn down. I talked to a friend (partner, therapist) and learned some better ways to handle my stress. “

Essentially, we bear the responsibility of continuing to grow in health and strength as parents in order to meet the needs of our kiddos with trauma/loss/neurological struggles/exposure, etc.


Perfection not required or expected

You may not feel like you are there yet. You may doubt your own ability to handle this time. But that’s for you to work out in a safe place and not to pass on to your kids.  They get the gift of believing that you are “bigger, stronger, kinder and wise.” (this is a core principle of Circle of Security – an excellent training for professionals and parents working with kids who need “extra supports.”)

It’s okay to not answer some questions or to let your kids know “That’s a great question and I’ll think about that and let you know.”

It’s okay to tell your kids that there are boundaries and that you cannot be “on” all the time or respond to every concern or anxiety.   We can set aside time for concerns but NOT be held hostage to their anxieties all day long. It’s not good for them or for us. 

AND:  This is unprecedented.  You are NOT alone.  

The tendency is likely to either “check out” or “over-compensate.” Neither are wise.

You are doing OK. You’re not expected to know all the answers or have it all together.

What can you do to make this time worthwhile and a surprising gift?

We can do more than just survive difficult times. We can thrive. Have you considered taking advantage of this unexpected opportunity to:


  1. Slow down. 
  2. Assess kids’ needs.
  3. Assess your needs.
  4. Weed out the unnecessary and unprofitable.
  5. Weed out the stressors.
  6. Focus on relationship, connection, and predictability.
  7. Set goals for family identity and work towards it.  “Kindness. Helpfulness. Encouraging.”
  8. Let your kids help.  
  9. Teach them new things: how to vacuum, how to clean, how to cook, how to weed.”
  10. Have fun.  Find ways to say “yes” and stick to your “no’s.”

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our Special Guest

Dena Johnson

Dena Johnson

Mental Health Counselor

In addition to being one of the amazing small group leaders of Thrive Parenting, Dena is an adoptive mom of 7 kids ranging in age from 10-23, and a grandma to a child she describes as  “a perfect 3 year old.”

If her life were not full enough raising her amazing kids and grandchild, she practices as a Mental Health Counselor near her home in Des Moines, Washington. There she works with clients who have experienced sexual abuse and other forms of trauma, adoptive and foster  families, and specializes in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, sensory issues, and attachment dificulties.

Post Graduate Training and Certification

Trust-Based Relationship Intervention Professional

Post-Graduate credentialing with Deborah Gray in Trauma and Attachment based care for children and families.


Seattle School of Theology and Psychology – Master of Arts in Counseling

Pepperdine University – Master of Science in Ministry

Abilene Christian University – BA in Biblical Studies

Our hosts

Jennie & Lynn Owens

Jennie & Lynn Owens

Jennie is a foster parent trainer and Author of the book Dancing with a Porcupine. Lynn is counselor, founder and co-owner of Canyon Lakes Family Counseling. Together they have parented over 100 kids including the 4 they adopted.

Previous Groups

We record a portion of the large group time so that ideas shared there can be available to everyone even if they couldn’t make it to the meeting.

How to Keep Kids Active when you are stuck inside

How to Keep Kids Active when you are stuck inside

During the training time of week 2 of the Thrive Parenting Support group, Melissa Porcaro, an occupational therapist from Richland, Washington, led us in a discussion about meeting the sensory, proprioceptive and vestibular needs of kids while stuck inside during the coronavirus stay at home orders.

You don’t have to wait for wednesday night!

The conversation happens all week long in our private facebook group. Here you can ask questions, get ideas, vent, or just share your favorite new meme. We also post a video of the large group times on our new Youtube channel. Connect with us anytime online.