Resources about 21st Century Approaches to Support Children and Youth who Struggle

Reason for Hope!

Making Schools More Human: The Pandemic Showed Us That Education Was Broken.  It also Showed Us How to Fix it.

Child Psychiatrists, Child Psychologists, Neuroscientists, Clinicians and Educators

Dr. Ross Greene, originator of Collaborative and Proactive Solutions has written and taught extensively about the need for a ‘lens change.”  This lens change sees struggling children as lacking skills, not lacking motivation.  Per Dr. Greene, “Kids do well if they can.”  Dr. Greene recognized that the traditional thinking about kids and parents did not make sense when he saw siblings responding very differently to the same approaches from their parents.

Dr. Mona Delahooke, after years of experience as a psychologist, felt that something was missing.  She sought additional education and training with Stanley Greenspan and Serena Wieder on the Developmental, Individualized, Relationship based approach (DIR) and also became certified as an Infant Mental Health Specialist. 

The first step to fix this problem: stop trying to manage and control a child’s behaviors before the child has the developed the capacity for self-control.”

“Look for these indications of physiological stress:

  • Physical responses such as crying, protesting, increased heart-rate, wide-open eyes, trying to escape, hitting, or otherwise striking out
  • Signs of disengagement, including flat, still, or frozen facial features; lack of interest or reaching out to others; monotone or flat vocal tone; lack of exploration; or slow or decreased body movement

If you observe a child exhibiting stress responses, make these your priorities:

  • Before anything else, give the child cues that he or she is physically and emotionally safe.
  • Understand the behavior as a stress response: what we are asking of the child exceeds his ability to carry out the task.
  • Be flexible about changing plans and immediate treatment goals to prioritize warmth, engagement and understanding when a child exhibits stress responses.”

In order to help children, we need to provide the proper support to address the cause, rather than simply applying behavioral management techniques in isolation.

 If faulty neuroception is to blame, however, behaviors will be a reflection of an immediate, “fight or flight” response and not purposeful misbehavior. In such cases, punishment can potentially cause more distress, triggering additional feelings of threat rather than safety.

  • Build or rebuild a sense of connection with trusted caregivers All children, regardless of age, need consistent attention to their emotional and physical needs. This includes loving attention when they distress and the consistent support of an adult who will understand when challenging behaviors are a sign of faulty neuroception.
  • Discover each child’s vulnerabilities and individual differences Some children have unique characteristics that make calming more difficult including over or under- reactivity to touch, sound smell, movement, emotions, experiences of trauma, etc. Understanding each child’s individual differences and history will provide a roadmap to supporting a neuroception of safety.
  • Help the child signal when he needs help and feels vulnerable Oppositional defiance is often a reaction to feeling small, helpless, and out of control. Encourage each child’s ability to signal (verbally or non –verbally) that he is beginning to feel uncomfortable or anxious.
  • Provide the correct support for each child Determine the best way to help children feel calm. Each child is different, so try a variety of methods to see what she enjoys. Play, cuddle, dance, sing, and try to figure out what brings the child joy. This will allow spontaneous social engagement behaviors to emerge that will support connectedness and biobehavioral co-regulation, resulting in her body and mind calming down and feeling safe.
  • Oppositional Defiance or Faulty Neuroception? Part 2: Just because a child can control her behavior some of the time, doesn’t mean she can control herself all of the time. Many factors influence children’s tolerance levels, including how their brains are wired and how they take in and make sense of what they see, hear, feel, intuit, touch, smell, taste, or otherwise make sense of the world.

    Often, a child’s stress response follows a series of stressors that didn’t cause the child to lose control. What looks like one inconsequential stressor may be the tipping point, the single trigger that occurs when reserves become depleted.
  • When we reframe many challenging behaviors as fight-or-flight behaviors — caused by subconscious distress — it’s easy to see that when we increase threat through the social isolation of a time-out, we are ignoring the brain-body connection.  Our collective obsession about time-outs reflect an outdated perception that all behaviors are motivated and incentivized. They simply aren’t.
  • Can Rewards and Consequences Make Kids’ Behavior Challenges Worse? When we shift to an approach that is grounded in neuroscience, we find that children’s challenging behaviors decrease when we properly meet their relational, emotional, and physiological needs. In other words, when we properly appreciate a child’s unique needs, we can focus our attention on the causes and triggers of the behavior challenges rather than continually trying to alter the end-product, the challenging behaviors.
  • How Anger, Tantrums, and Meltdowns Protect Your Child Fatigue, anxiety, feeling unsafe or unwell—any of millions of invisible triggers can send a child onto the red pathway of explosive behaviors. When this happens, it’s important to remember that the child is not choosing the behavior, but rather the child’s autonomic nervous system is choosing it. In short, a tantrum is rarely a conscious choice.

    If children didn’t have the fight or flight pathway as a way to manage perceived threat, they would have one alternative when they sensed danger: to freeze or shut down. It’s important to remember that a child who freezes or shuts down in response to any situation is in autonomic-nervous-system distress and needs immediate, supportive intervention.

    The bottom line: meltdowns and tantrums are not purposeful misbehavior. That’s why it’s important to not punish or offer negative consequences for such behaviors. In the moment, a child needs soothing, not lecturing or consequences—or punishment, which sends the human nervous system into increasing levels of distress.

    We need to appreciate meltdowns for what they are: a signal that the child needs something from us or from her world.  And how should we respond in these difficult moments? It depends on what is causing the child distress. In any case, what children need most during challenging times is the patience, warmth, and love from the adults around them. 
  • Top-Down and Bottom-Up Behaviors: Understanding the Critical Difference: Bottom-up behaviors do not respond to rewards, consequences, or punishments. Bottom-up behaviors are brain-based stress responses that require understanding, compassion and actively helping an individual feel safe, based on that individual’s unique neurology. When we punish a bottom-up behavior, we can easily make matters worse. And this is why so many of our treatments fall short, or even deepen a child or teen’s emotional and behavioral challenges. As a point of reference, almost all toddler tantrums are bottom-up because children don’t begin to develop the ability to reliably control emotions and behaviors until late toddlerhood. The process continues through early adulthood.

    Parents, teachers, and providers can avoid making matters worse by differentiating between the two types of behaviors.

    A few ways to rectify the problem:

    *Understand the difference between top-down and bottom-up causes of behaviors. This requires more than a blog post, and I explain it in my book Beyond Behaviors.  

    * If the behavior is bottom-up, use bottom-up strategies first, starting with helping the person feel safe rather than using discipline or punishment as the first approach.
  • Ten Things to ask for when Your Child is Diagnosed with Autism or Developmental Differences:
    • Understand that autism or other neurological differences make our child different, not deficient. We do not want our child to experience unspoken messages that he or she needs to be cured or fixed.
    • Presume competency in our child and understand that it may take a while for him to show you all he knows.   Please have patience and assume that he understands everything you are saying.
    • Do not confuse our child’s inability to speak or use proper language as an inability to think. Our child’s ability to communicate her inside thoughts is not always easy or possible, but she has thoughts, emotions, and desires just as any other child does.
    • Prioritize our child’s feelings of safety in relationships as a necessary condition for learning. It is more difficult for our child to feel safe because he can’t easily communicate his needs. Please help him feel secure, loved, and safe.
    • Understand that our child’s behaviors are adaptations, and we need to be curious and reflect about their causes and triggers.  Our child’s behaviors, which may look negative or attention-seeking, are most likely adaptive adjustments or stress responses.
    • Consider the mental-health implications of every behavior plan, strategy, and intervention for our child. Our child feels sadness, shame, and embarrassment as any other child does. Please be considerate of his emotions when creating educational and treatment plans.
    • Consult with us, her parents, before attempting to “normalize” behaviors. Some of our child’s behaviors help her feel calmer. If they are not disrupting others, please do not take behaviors away without first speaking with us. This can have an impact on her developing self-confidence.
    • Work from our child’s strengths, natural interests, and motivation. Our child, like all children, learns best when he is engaged and interested in the process. Please incorporate his natural interests in his education and therapy sessions.
    • Certain sensory experiences may be difficult for our child. Along with an expert on sensory-motor integration (typically an occupational therapist or physical therapist) make sure therapy goals are tailored to our child’s sensory processing profile. When taken into consideration and accommodated, our child is more content and learns better.
    • Continue to raise the bar and expect as much from our child as you would from any other child. We have the same hope as all parents: that our child will be happy, secure, and live to his highest potential. You are essential in making this happen.

Dr. Bruce Perry is an internationally recognized teacher, clinician, and researcher (basic neuroscience and clinical).  His clinical research over the last ten years on integrating emerging principles of developmental neuroscience into clinical practice has resulted in innovative clinical practices and programs working with maltreated and traumatized children, most prominently the Neurosequential Model©, a developmentally sensitive, neurobiology-informed approach to clinical work (NMT), education (NME) and caregiving (NMC). 

Dr. Perry goes into more depth in a series he created in Spring 2020.

NN COVID-19 Stress, Distress & Trauma Series: The videos in this series with Dr. Bruce Perry are provided to view and share.  Each video is closed captioned. 

  • NN COVID Series: 1 – Patterns of Stress determine Risk & Resilience: This brief (15 min) video with Dr. Bruce Perry discusses how the pattern of stress can determine risk or resilience.  The importance of structure, predictability and moderation of daily stress is highlighted.  The malleability of the capacity to demonstrate resilience is discussed.  
  • NN COVID Series: 3 – Emotional Contagion: In this brief (20 min) video, Dr. Bruce Perry discusses ’emotional contagion’ and talks about the power of calm.  The concept of power differential is discussed in context of human interactions and discusses the importance of calm, regulated leadership in times of stress and distress.
  • NN COVID Series: 4 – Sequence of Engagement: This is a brief (20 min) video describing the sequential processing of experience in the brain.  The Regulate-Relate-Reason heuristic is explained. This simple but powerful concept can help minimize miscommunication and behavioral challenges (especially with dysregulated adults and children).  
  • NN COVID Series: 5 – Understanding Regulation: This brief (23 min) video reviews some of the basics of ‘regulation’ and helps viewers understand why patterned, repetitive somatosensory activity is regulating.  The primary regulatory role of dissociation is also discussed.  Very basic neuroscience about stress and regulation can help viewers understand the power of intentional regulatory practices – especially in the current COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • NN COVID Series: 6 – Dosing & Spacing: This brief (25 min) video discusses elaborates on the importance of the “pattern” of stress and stress activation with a focus on the concept of ‘dosing.’  What is considered a “moderate” dose of stress – why is this important in building resilience?  And what is the power of the moment?  This video presents some important background for understanding the importance of small but powerful relational moments.
  • NN COVID Series: 7 – Self-care & Organizational Care: This brief (25 min) video highlights the reasons self-care and organizational care are needed for individuals and organizations that work in high stress settings, or with individuals with trauma histories. Examples of integration of regulatory strategies into work-flow are provided. 
  • NN COVID Series: 8 – Decision Fatigue: This brief (21 min) video discusses the importance of regulation during decision-making. Decision fatigue and analysis paralysis can impede the development of creative solutions during times of crisis. A few simple guidelines can improve decision-making and lead to more effective practice, programs, and policy – especially when created during times of duress, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • NN COVID Series: 9 – Managing Transitions: This brief (27 min) video helps viewers understand transitions as stressors and provides concrete strategies to help individuals and organizations struggling with transitions. This knowledge is foundational in managing the uncertain times and many transitions that are inevitable in any crisis, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • NN COVID Series: 10 – Reward & Maladaptive Regulation using Alcohol & Substances: This brief (16 min) video provides an introduction to the reward neurobiology and how this relates to the use and misuse of alcohol and substances of ‘abuse’ to provide regulation and reward. The importance of understanding the neurobiology underneath ‘reward’ seeking behaviors is highlighted. The role that stress, distress and trauma play in altering our reward seeking and reward ‘quenching’ behaviors is discussed. 
  • NN COVID Series: 11 – Sport in Healing & Resilience Building: This special one hour edition of the NM Network Series on Stress & Trauma features a conversation about the potential regulating, rewarding & healing effects of sport. The underlying rationale of the collaborative work of WeCoach and the Neurosequential Network is discussed, in part. This is a useful introduction to stress, trauma and resilience for coaches, parents, athletes, and anyone interested in sport or traumatic stress.  
  • NN COVID Series: 12 – Understanding the Power Differential: This (31 min) video discusses the dynamics of interpersonal interactions; a “power differential” is created when two people interact. A dominance hierarchy can influence emotional, social, and cognitive functioning. The individual on the bottom of the power differential will have a ‘state-dependent’ shift in brain-functioning and feel more anxious or even threatened. The role that gender, race, role and physical proximity can play in this dynamic is discussed, as is the importance of power differential dynamics in understanding equity concepts. 
  • NN COVID Series: 13 – The Intimacy Barrier: This (25 min) video discusses the concept of ‘relational sensitivity’; when intimacy becomes an evocative cue, there can be a host of problems with forming and maintaining relationships. This is a common issue with children, youth and adults who have had inconsistent, unpredictable, or abusive early caregiving.  
  • NN COVID Series: 14 – Distributed Leadership: This (30 min) video provides an overview of the power of distributed leadership. The awareness of the neurobiological ‘preferences’ that we have for small group functioning and dynamics provides some insight to the inefficient forms of large group planning and program development that characterize our current child welfare, mental health, juvenile justice, and early childhood systems.

Stephen W. Porges, Ph.D. is the founding director of the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium. He is Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological state in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders. He is the creator of a music-based intervention, the Safe and Sound Protocol ™ , which currently is used by more than 1400 therapists to improve spontaneous social engagement, to reduce hearing sensitivities, to improve language processing and state regulation.

Bessel van der Kolk MD has spent his professional life studying how children and adults adapt to traumatic experiences. He translates emerging findings from neuroscience and attachment research to develop and study a range of effective treatments for traumatic stress and developmental trauma in children and adults.  His work is focused on integrating therapy with science.

Dr. Dan Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and the founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA. Dr. Siegel is also the Executive Director of the Mindsight Instituteand the Medical Director of the LifeSpan Learning Institute.  His psychotherapy practice includes children, adolescents, adults, couples, and families. Dr. Siegel has published extensively for the professional audience.  Dr. Siegel serves as the Founding Editor for the Norton Professional Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology which contains nearly seventy textbooks.   

Dr. Tina Payne Bryson is a mom, a psychotherapist, a parent educator, and the Founder/Executive Director of The Center for Connection, a multidisciplinary clinical practice, and of The Play Strong Institute, a center devoted to the study, research, and practice of play therapy through a neurodevelopment lens.

Dr. Stuart Shanker is one of the world’s leading authorities on self-regulation. Dr. Shanker is the Founder and CEO of The MEHRIT Centre, a Self-Reg learning and information center.

Dr. Stuart Shanker on Self-Regulation (2 min)

Self-regulation and the development of empathy

Making Connections 2016

Dr. Lori Desautels explains and demonstrates through her book Connection over Compliance and on her website and through videos what neuroscience aligned prevention looks like.  Lori Desautels educates graduate and undergraduate students and practicing professionals about educational neuroscience.  She also works with K-12 students, applying what she teaches in the classroom. 

Professor Andrew McDonnell, from the United Kingdom created a new approach to meeting the needs of individuals whose behaviors challenge those around them, the Low Arousal Approach.  

Alfie Kohn writes and speaks widely on human behavior, education, and parenting. The author of fourteen books and hundreds of articles, he lectures at education conferences and universities as well as to parent groups and corporations.

Emma Van der Klift


Heather T. Forbes, LCSW is an internationally published author on the topics of working with children exhibiting difficult and severe behaviors, the impact of trauma on the developing child, adoptive motherhood, and self-development. Much of her experience and insight on understanding trauma, disruptive behaviors, and adoption-related issues comes from her direct mothering experience of her two adopted children and mentoring a severely trauma-impacted young adult. She provides workshops and training offering specific guidance and strategies for meeting students where they are and helping them thrive at school.

Greg Santucci is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist and founder of Power Play Pediatric Therapy. Greg presents workshops nationally on topics related to sensory processing, challenging behaviors, and improving school-based therapy services.

Kristie Pretti-Frontczak: As an author, speaker, and educational consultant, Kristie is a passionate believer in children’s right to learn through play, inclusive classrooms, and transformative professional development that supports teachers’ wholeness.

Laura Fish has worked as a therapist with child, adolescent, and adult populations in various settings. She has unique expertise in early intervention helping families, young children and teachers learn strategies to promote social and emotional development and prevent challenging behavior. Starting early to prevent future challenges.

Julie Causton is founder and CEO of Inclusive Schooling. She has spent the past 20 years studying best practices for inclusive education and as a former elementary, middle, and high school special education teacher herself, she knows firsthand how inclusion leads to better outcomes for students. She is an educational consultant and works with administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, and families across the country to help them promote and improve inclusive practices. 

  • Dr. Nadine Burke Harris is an award-winning physician, researcher and advocate dedicated to changing the way our society responds to child trauma.  She was appointed as California’s first-ever Surgeon General in 2019.

Websites: Center for Youth Wellness

Book: The Deepest Well

Ted-Talk: How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime

Especially for Parents

Dr. Laura Markham trained as a Clinical Psychologist at Columbia University, but she’s also a mom, so she understands kids — and parents! She uses her Ph.D. to translate proven science and child-development research into the practical solutions you need for the family life you want.

Lori Petro is the founder of Teach Through Love, the creator of the Conscious Communication Cards, and host of the popular YouTube series, Teachable Moments. She has been inspiring and educating parents, teachers, and other professionals with her talks, online courses, and digital content since 2005. 

Patty Wipfler is the Founder and Program Director of the nonprofit parenting organization, Hand in Hand Parenting.  Hand in Hand Parenting’s focus is on working with parents and primary caregivers. Their approach falls within the authoritative or democratic parenting category. They advocate for a combination of responsiveness and nurturing combined with high expectations for behavior, to form strong parent-child connections that last a lifetime.

Tilt Parenting was founded in 2016 by Debbie Reber as a podcast and community aimed at helping parents raising differently-wired kids do so from a place of confidence, connection, and joy. Debbie is passionate about the idea that being differently wired isn’t a deficit —it’s a difference. She hopes to change the way difference is perceived and experienced in the world so these exceptional kids, and the parents raising them, can thrive in their schools, in their families, and in their lives.

Schools that Use 21st Century Approaches

The Process of Changing Disciplinary Practices

The Spark to Change – Personal Stories

Why Change is So Difficult; Strategies

Trauma Information and Resources

  • Roadmap for Resilience: The California Surgeon General’s Report on Adverse Childhood Experiences, Toxic Stress, and Health.  December 9, 2020  Slides
  • Aces Connection We are the human and digital catalyst that unites the people, organizations, systems, and communities in the worldwide ACEs movement. We are its main information exchange and resource. And we are a support for hundreds of local, state, and national ACEs initiatives
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Adverse Childhood Conditions
  • Child Trauma Academy
    The Child Trauma Academy strives to improve the lives of high-risk children through service, research, and education. Free online learning modules are available here.
  • Community Resilience Initiative

CRI’s unique community-based approach combines the science, evidence-based strategies, and our 21-year history of building Knowledge, Insight, Strategies and Structure (KISS framework) into a community of practice.

  • National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD)
    This site offers valuable information about CMHS’s (Center for Mental Health Services) National Center for Trauma-Informed Care (NCTIC). It offers resources such as publications, reports, webinars, and other tools.
  • National Child Traumatic Stress Network
    The National Child Traumatic Stress Network aims to improve access to care, treatment, and services for traumatized children and teens. Its site offers a wealth of information geared toward children, including numerous webinars.
  • SAMHSA’s National Center for Trauma-Informed Care (NCTIC) 
    NCTIC provides training for staff, consumers, and others to facilitate trauma-informed care in a range of service systems. A useful list of national hotlines, referral resources, and support services can be found here.
  • Paper Tigers.  This documentary by KPJR Films, follows six students over the course of a school year as a new trauma-sensitive program is implemented.
  • Resilience. This documentary delves in the science of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and a new movement to treat and prevent toxic stress.

Toward Effective Change – Avoiding Pitfalls

  • When Schools Cause Trauma: Trauma-sensitive and trauma-informed schools are spreading around the country. But if they don’t start with how schools themselves can induce trauma; they won’t work.

Anti-Racism Resources

Implicit Bias Resources

Mental Health – A fresh look


Videos, Webinars, Podcasts:



  • NeuroClastic – NeuroClastic Is a Non-Profit Managed by Volunteers. Providing no-cost, ad-free, high-quality articles by autistic writers and professionals.
  • Not an Autism Mom – Meghan Ashburn is an educational consultant, professional development facilitator, and writer. She’s passionate about helping teachers, schools, and districts create more inclusive and accessible environments for children. This type of change doesn’t come easily. It takes learning and unlearning. It takes planning and intent. It takes vision and innovation.
  • Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN). The Autistic Self Advocacy Network is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization run by and for autistic people. ASAN was created to serve as a national grassroots disability rights organization for the autistic community, advocating for systems change and ensuring that the voices of autistic people are heard in policy debates and the halls of power. Our staff work to advance civil rights, support self-advocacy in all its forms, and improve public perceptions of autism. ASAN’s members and supporters include autistic adults and youth, cross-disability advocates, and non-autistic family members, professionals, educators, and friends.



Letting Go of Control and Rethinking Support for Autistic Individuals

Instead of trying to control the behaviors of individuals with autism to make them indistinguishable from the general public, Amy Laurent, PhD, OTR/L suggests a positive shift in focus that supports the development of their emotional skills.

Current Issues in Education

  • The Unintended Consequences of IDEA
  • Make Schools More Human. The Pandemic Showed us that Education was Broken.  It also showed us how to fix it
  • Lost Opportunities:  How Disparate School Discipline Continue to Drive Differences in Opportunity to Learn

Behaviorism (Resources Identifying Issues with the Use of Behaviorism)

Social Emotional Learning – Look Carefully at What is Being Implemented

Social Emotional Learning

Civil Rights, Human Rights

School Discipline, School Climate, School to Prison Pipeline

Considerations about Measurement, Data and Evidence Based Practices

Data Issues:

Downloadable version of these resources.

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