The Doctor Is In: Emily Bouchard

2 12 2008

Emily Bouchard, founder of, is an expert in stepfamily issues with more than 20 years of experience in working with children and families dealing with adversity. She has a master’s degree in social work and a bachelor’s degree in child development. Emily is also a stepdaughter and a loving stepmother to two young women who were teenagers when she entered their lives. Bouchard conducts live teleseminars with renowned experts to help stepfamilies succeed. Find the schedule of speakers and pose a question to an expert at  

Parenting in the 21st Century
By Emily Bouchard  

In the course of the last week alone, I had three different clients address major issues related to their teenagers. In one family, a 14-year-old girl’s diary was found to contain a suicide note along with evidence that she was acting out sexually. In another family, a 13-year-old boy, who had been recently diagnosed with ADHD, had just failed the eighth grade. And in yet another family, a 16-year-old girl was involved in cyber-bullying and sexually explicit harassment over the Internet with another girl in her school.

In each instance, my initial response to the parents was the same. I’d like to share the coaching I gave them to you here, as I believe many parents need all the support they can get in this day and age – with what their children are exposed to and contending with.

When a parent initially discovers that their child has made a mistake or has a specific challenge, the range of emotions can span shock, disbelief, distress, anger, rage, frustration, loss, grief, fear and worry. Parental reactions from these emotions typically look like punishments, lectures, “raking over the coals,” expressions of extreme disappointment and dissatisfaction, yelling, or maybe even a complete breakdown, from the devastation and fear.

Very few parents are prepared to effectively deal with major, emotionally charged and frightening issues that most teenagers face in the course of that developmental stage. The strategies they choose are the ones that were modeled for them, years ago, when the world was a different place, and when the family dynamics were different as well. Add to the equation that most parents BOTH work now, and, for many teenagers, they are living with only one birthparent at any one time, and you’ve got a recipe for even more challenges in dealing with the toughest issues in the lives of teens.

So, what can you do?

First, and foremost – BREATHE. When you learn that something awful has happened (or you think it has happened), immediately breathe deeply and consciously into your belly – at least six deep breaths, allowing yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling fully. If your teenager is right in front of you – just simply say, “Stop. Wait. Breathe with me.” And invite him or her to take in some deep breaths. I recommend holding each breath for a moment, before letting them out with an audible sigh.

At any time you start to feel yourself becoming emotionally reactive around the issue, take a “time out” and breathe deeply again. You’ll be amazed at what this will do to calm you down, to allow you to think more clearly, and to bring you back to the present moment with your child – who needs you more than anything in that moment.

The reason we become so reactive is because we take ourselves out of the present moment by projecting into the future all the horrible things that may happen to our children as a result of this one mistake or present issue. The mind latches on to the possibilities as if they are factual, and then proceeds to scare us out of our wits. It’s hard to access your intellect and your resources when you’re terrified about what could happen – as if it has already come to pass.

Breathing keeps you present, and keeps you from getting caught by the stories your mind wants to feed you.

Now that you have the concept of deep breathing down, here’s the second thing I strongly recommend that you do – before anything else…GET THEM! Go into your heart, find your love, empathy, and compassion for the teenager in front of you and SEEK TO UNDERSTAND what THEIR relationship is to what you’ve just discovered. Questions like “What was that like for you?” and simply asking them to “Tell me more” can be very helpful.

Years ago my teenage stepdaughter, Robin, used my car while I was away for the weekend. I had noticed before leaving that the odometer had a funny number (333333). When I returned, the number was different. What was I to do? She’d obviously used my car and I knew it. I was shocked and upset. And I knew that she had to be sitting on the knowledge that she had done something behind my back.

There are many ways I could have handled this same scenario, and been totally justified and within my rights as a stepparent. Some ideas that came to mind were to ground her from using my car for a month; or taking away other privileges as well; or having her wash my car and work off the mileage she added to it, etc. I also contemplated going to her father and having him give her all sorts of punishments and consequences, and not confronting her or addressing this with her myself. I’m sure you’ve thought of all kinds of options I could have used to address her disrespect and disregard for a boundary I had given her. After talking with her father about the options, I came up with a solution that made the most sense to me – with the goals of (1) deepening our connection and (2) using the opportunity as a chance to guide and consult with her around choices and trust.
I chose to wait to talk with her until I had to drive her to school the next day, in my car. I calmly showed her the odometer and let her know that I knew she’d used the car, because I’d noticed that the reading was different. I then looked at her and asked her, “Can you help me understand what caused you to choose to use my car when I’d asked you not to?”

She knew she’d been caught and she started to give me excuses and reasons. I then asked her, “What was it like for you to use it when you knew you weren’t supposed to?” and she opened up more and shared her worries, her fears, and her reasons for taking the risk. I followed this by asking her to share what it was like for her to have me know and confront her with it. Her immediate response was relief – like she’d been holding her breath and finally got to let it go.

We then had a whole discussion about what it’s like to do what we want even when we know it is wrong. And we talked about what happens in life when we make choices that could hurt others, or when they could backfire and hurt us in the long run. We looked at how she’d hurt the trust between us and that she’d need to work to earn back my trust, and what a loss that was for both of us. And we discussed ways she could go about earning back my trust.

Our conversation finished with an exploration together about what would be a reasonable and natural consequence for her, given the fact that she chose to go behind my back and use my car without permission. The fact that she never lied about it and that she was willing to explore the whole thing with me helped her cause, and I showed her that her choice to own up to her decision was already a step toward earning back my trust.

Using this approach took forethought combined with a clear INTENTION about what I wanted for the outcome. My goal with my teenage stepdaughters was to be a role model for them, and to support them in being young women who make healthy, life-affirming decisions for themselves in their lives then and in the future. As a result, the majority of my interactions with them came from that place of seeking to understand first, and then being curious with them about the results in their lives that happen due to the choices they were making.

Many parents and stepparents get tripped up by the notion that if they seek to understand, they will somehow appear to approve of the behaviors that have them so concerned. What I find happens is the opposite. By treating teenagers with respect, and as people who can think for themselves, you get to discover their whole world, and what matters most to them. You get to know them as who they are in that moment – instead to imposing onto them who you want them to be and making them wrong because they are not the perfect child anymore.

Once you meet them with understanding and get them of their reality, they become MUCH MORE OPEN to listening and respecting you for your perspective and opinion. Teenagers are in a constant state of turmoil and confusion. Their hormones are running amuck, they are bombarded by so many social pressures, and they are still trying to learn and succeed in a teaching environment which is sorely lacking in what they actually need at that stage in development (that’s a whole other topic). What they need more than anything is a way to make sense of their inner and outer worlds, and to be loved and accepted for who they are, while also being given clear boundaries and limits, and being shown what happens when they step over them – now and in the future. Your lack of approval, when shared after you’ve shown the respect and understanding, will be met with respect, and they are much more likely to comply with their consequences.
Action Steps
The next time your child or teenage acts out or steps over a boundary, remember to:

Breathe deeply and deliberately.  

Meet them first and foremost with curiosity and seek to understand their perspective.  

Explore with them the possible consequences of their choices/actions.  

Determine together what steps they will take to earn back their privileges.  

If you have on-going challenges with a teenager in your home, you may want to visit for his books and ideas on how to parent teenagers. I also highly recommend Kelly Nault’s book, When You’re About To Go Off the Deep End, Don’t Take Your Kids With You  – she has great insights into parenting strategies that really work. And, I always tell my clients about, as their resources are exceptional for parents (best to start with them as early as you can).

New Workshop

25 11 2008

Dear stepmoms:

If you live in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Minnesota area or feel like visiting, I have put together a new workshop you might be interested in. Though it doesn’t focus specifically on stepparenting issues, the things we’ll cover in the workshop certainly do apply to stepfamily life! Check it out and let me know what you think.

Best wishes,

S.M.A.C.K. Your Inner Critic and Live the Life of Your Dreams!

Now you can learn the proven strategies to smackdown your fears so you can identify and create the life you’ve always wanted to live.

 Dear Friend,

In 1994, I weighed 260 pounds. Late one night, I had a vision of what my life would be like if I continued on the path I was on. I saw health problems. I saw unresolved emotional pain. I saw loneliness. And that vision terrified me.

During that long night I made a decision that would change my life. I would stop listening to that voice in my head that said, “You’ll never lose the weight! You’re lazy! You can’t do it!” In that moment I decided I would learn how to be healthy and prove my Inner Critic wrong.

That’s when I first discovered the power of smacking down the Inner Critic. Each day my Inner Critic would attack me with its pessimism about my chances for recovery. And each day I would smack it down with a new technique. I lost 100 pounds.



Jacquelyn in 1994 and 2008

Since then I’ve gone on to use the same methods to combat my fear of public speaking, publish a book, and launch my own business. I even used the S.M.A.C.K. Your Inner Critic system to find the man of my dreams and create a relationship that I couldn’t have even imagined 15 years ago.

But I didn’t create these amazing changes in my life alone. I had help. When I met my best friend Clare X. Gailey more than a decade ago while attending Wellesley College, we had no idea we would embark on a journey together that would shape our entire lives.

Two years after college, we were both feeling restless and dissatisfied. I had just finished graduate school and moved home to Minneapolis from Boston with no job, no boyfriend, and a really bad haircut. Clare, still in Boston, was spending half her life reading and the other half temping. She had no particularly special talent, no ambition, no hobbies or specific interests; just a vague hope that something would change. We both felt lost – with absolutely no idea about how to get a life that included romantic partners, families, and careers that gave us a sense of purpose. 

In January 1998, at the height of feeling like clueless losers, we took a vacation together. The trip started with a tank of gas, but the real journey began with a proposition:

“What if we each choose one thing every year that we’re afraid of – one really big thing -and face it down?”

Would we become better at taking risks? Would we feel more comfortable asking for what we desired? Could we actually create lives we wanted to live?

And so we began an experiment to see if we could successfully create ways to smackdown our fears. There were hundreds of late-night phone calls with the latest epiphanies about new techniques to try when we were feeling shy with a boyfriend or unsure that we were walking the right career path. We brainstormed ways to work through our doubts, overcome procrastination, and ride out the times when nothing seemed to be happening.

“How do we develop the courage to create a life that has meaning?” On the tenth anniversary of the snowy January when we first asked that question, the S.M.A.C.K. Your Inner Critic concept came to be. Clare and I wrote a book, started the blog, and created this workshop, not because we had finished asking the question, but because we found ourselves looking back over the last decade with awe. So many of our techniques worked that we wanted to share them with others. 

So are you ready to begin creating your ideal life? Then let us help you. Because it’s easier when you’re not alone.

The S.M.A.C.K. Your Inner Critic and Live the Life of Your Dreams Workshop is for you if:

  • You have a dream but your Inner Critic keeps you from doing it.
  • You desire a life that balances inspiring work, deep friendships, and a loving partnership.
  • There’s something you’ve always wanted to do but have been too afraid to try in your personal or professional life.
  • You want to create a fulfilling and inspiring career.
  • You want to find ways to make money that allow you more time with your loved ones.
  • You have graduated or lost a job and don’t know what to do next.
  • You’re dissatisfied with your body, your job, or your relationships and you don’t know how to create change.
  • You want to develop a greater sense of self-confidence and ease.

Now you can learn the proven strategies that people just like you have used to Become Who They Want to Be and Do What They Want to Do. 


“I learned A LOT. Jacquelyn is everything it says in her bio – part cheerleader, part strategist. Thank you Jacquelyn!”

-former student

Here’s just some of what you’ll learn:

  • How to tell the difference between your Inner Critic and your gut instinct.
  • The art of the smackdown so you can achieve milestone after milestone.
  • Five steps to reaching your goals without succumbing to fear fizzle or burn out.
  • Three techniques you can use to sustain your energy while you create a balanced life.
  • The smartest methods for finding cheerleaders and mentors.
  • The secret to asking for what you want and getting it.
  • The best methods for motivating yourself.

“Jacquelyn strikes just the kind of balance one wants in a teacher: she provides relevant and incredibly useful information and is also an endless source of enthusiastic support. As an instructor and coach, Jacque lets you know what works and what doesn’t, and helps you both articulate your goals and believe that you can reach them.
You just can’t ask for more valuable help and inspiration.”

-Jennifer, former student

So, What’s An Inner Critic?

The Inner Critic is not your conscience, your gut instinct, your intuition, or your voice of reason. The Inner Critic likes to pretend it is all of those things, but there’s one big difference: The Inner Critic does not have your best interests at heart. Basically, the Inner Critic is the part of you that wants you to give up on your dreams. It’s your own worst enemy, and it’s trying to paralyze you with its pessimism.


And What’s A Smackdown?

The Inner Critic has a big, fat mouth. It’s a verbal abuser. So a smackdown is anything you do that quiets the Inner Critic. S.M.A.C.K.s are methods that combine deep knowledge of self plus optimism plus action. They are actions you can do to turn on the reticular activating system in your brain, which helps you see the solutions to problems so you can achieve your dreams.

The S.M.A.C.K. Your Inner Critic and Live the Life of Your Dreams Workshop addresses the crucial developmental dilemmas that people across the country struggle with daily and during major transitions in their lives: How do I identify what I want? How do I maintain the courage to go for what I want? How do I learn to listen to my instincts? How do I smackdown the inner critic that tells me I can’t do it, I’m no good?

You’ll learn battle-tested ways to knock out the excuses so many of us cling to while our dreams slip away.       

The S.M.A.C.K. Your Inner Critic and Live the Life of Your Dreams Workshop is a critical experience if you’ve ever wanted more – in your career, family life, friendships, intimate relationships – but have been too afraid to go for it.

To find out more visit: