Why Did We Create Kids First Parents Second?

download (4) Why Kids First Parents Second?

The first day Jocelyn came into our K1 P2 seminar she was mad. She was mad because her mom and dad got divorced. Jocelyn was consumed by her feelings, she simply never felt like that before. At 6 years old, she did not quite understand what divorce meant and how it would affect her life. Jocelyn needed to understand anger.

Kids like Jocelyn will have strong emotions when mom and dad decide to live in separate homes. In the short term, children will have problems with anger, sadness and anxiety. Sadly there are little to no resources to help these kids.

At Kids First Parents Second, we talk to young children about how to handle anger and sadness. We talk to young children about quiet zones and making lemonade when all you see is lemons. We talk to young children about finding courage and asking questions. We talk to young children about finding a grandma, grandpa, teacher, counselor or friend to talk to. Older children are taught the art of journal writing and are given help with expressing and identifying emotions.
So why have your child attend the Kids First Parent Second Program? Most people will tell you that their children will be fine after mom and dad live in separate homes. Most people will say that because they believe that statement to be true. Most people also believe many teenagers are troubled because of what happened after mom and dad separated. To us, it seems that most people must have gotten it wrong somewhere. We must begin to help children before their problems can no longer go unnoticed.
We invite you to join us at Kids First Parents Second. We welcome you to join our community and create an environment for change. For more information visit us at kidsfirstparentssecond.org.

The Use of Journals to help Kids of Divorce

“Journal Writing is a great way to help children express their emotions.  With journal writing comes the skill of emotional literacy,  that is the ability to understand, express and recognize feelings.  Encouraging children to write in journals gives them the gift of self-awareness. Children must be given certain words, a word bank they can use to improve their emotional literacy. The idea is to create a feeling journal in which they document their emotional reactions to situations.”   “Developing Children’s Emotional intelligence.”  By Shahnaz Bahman and Helen Maffini.

Thanks to a the movie Inside Out, a elementary teenager came up with a list of vocabulary words that should be included in a child’s word bank.    WORD BANK (MAD, SAD, WORRIED, JOYFUL,.ANXIOUS, HAPPY, NERVOUS, UNFAIR, HOPE, WISH, GRANDPA, GRANDMA). Obviously the more words added, the greater the potential to help children fully express themselves.

Children in the group will not know how to put their journals to good use at first.  Our approach to developing Journal Skills includes three steps:

Step One:  The group should be instructed on how to identify and handle certain feelings.

Step Two:   The group should be instructed on story telling. Members of the group would be presented with a picture of a child in a particular pose.  The picture would show the child looking stressed, lost, happy, sad.  Members of the group would then be asked to write a story about the picture they see. Why did the child feel the way he or she did?  What caused the child to feel this way?  What should the child do to resolve their situation?  The child would be encouraged to use as many descriptive words as possible to bring the pictures they see to life, including the words contained in the word bank.

Step Three:   No limits should be placed on HOW the children in the group express themselves.  The journal could be used as a story book.  The journal could be used to draw art, write poetry.  It could be in the third person or first.  What is important is that the child is using words to describe their feelings and learning ways to manage their emotions.

Excerpt from KFPS Training Day

“Everyone has told me that kids adapt to their environment and will turn out just fine. 

Everyone also tells me that troubled teenagers are products of their environment. 

Seems to me, everyone must have it got it wrong somewhere.”

Matt Sossi, Kids First Parents Second

          `Kids First Parents Second is an organization dedicated to helping kids cope with events OUTSIDE of their control.  It is our hope that the program we created will: 1.  Help children learn to identify and express thought and feeling, 2.  Provide children with needed coping skills and life direction.  To start, we must talk about helping children with their emotional intelligence.

What is Emotional intelligence?

In the last decade or so, science has discovered a tremendous amount about the role emotions play in our lives. Researchers have found that even more than IQ, your emotional awareness and ability to handle feelings will determine your success and happiness in all walks of life, including family relationships. For parents, this quality of “emotional intelligence”– as many now call it– means being aware of your children’s feelings, and being able to empathize, soothe, and guide them. For children, who learn most lessons about emotion from their parents, it includes the ability to control impulses, delay gratification, motivate themselves, read other people’s social cues, and cope with life’s ups and downs.   Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman, Ph. D. with permission of the author. Copyright 1997 by John Gottman, all rights reservedEmotional Intelligence New York Times:  By JENNIFER KAHN Published: September 11, 2013

 The theory that kids need to learn to manage their emotions in order to reach their potential grew out of the research from a pair of psychology professors — John Mayer, at the University of New Hampshire, and Peter Salovey, at Yale.  In the 1980s, Mayer and Salovey became curious about the ways in which emotions communicate information, and why some people seem more able to take advantage of those messages than others. While outlining the set of skills that defined this “emotional intelligence,” Salovey realized that it might be even more influential than he had originally suspected, affecting everything from problem solving to job satisfaction: “It was like, this is predictive!”  Emotional Intelligence New York Times:  By JENNIFER KAHN Published: September 11, 2013

For children, the basic components of emotional intelligence allow children to : 1. Talk about their feelings, 2. Understand how to be happy, 3. Understand how to control themselves, handle problems and get along with others..  Developing Your Child’s Emotional Quotient: The Value of Emotional Intelligence by Dr. Sandra Wartski.”


  1. Helps children become aware of their emotions;
  2. Uses that awareness as an opportunity for discussion;
  3. Validates children’s feelings;
  4. Helps the child find words to label the emotion he is having; and
  5. Explores strategies to help the child solve the problem at hand.

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman, Ph.D. with permission of the author. Copyright 1997 by John Gottman, all rights reserved.


Many children are NOT going to want to talk about their thoughts and feelings. Children will come in guarded.  Children may be embarrassed and shy.  Many children will be extremely angry and wonder WHY you want to know about their problems and WHAT you could possibly do to help them.   Boys may be less able to express themselves than girls.  The oldest child will act differently than the youngest and the middle child will have their own issues to deal with………..


Each instructor will be provided a matching card game that is to be shared with the children – no more than 5 to each group.   The cards are to be placed faced down and the children (youngest first) attempt to match identical emotion cards.  The child who wins the game with the most matching cards wins the game and a appropriate prize.

The children sit down with the instructor being at the head of the table.  The children are then asked to draw pictures of the characters they found on the cards.  The children are asked to also mimic the pictures that they have drawn.  The instructor then will engage the children if they have ever been angry, sad or worried.


We require our older children (7 on up) to start writing in journals when they start our program.    “Journal Writing is a wonderful way of expressing emotions.  With journal writing comes the skill of emotional literacy.  That is the ability to understand, express and recognize your emotions.  Encouraging children to write in journals gives them the gift of self-awareness.

Children must be given the correct vocabulary so they may improve their emotional literacy. Younger children can simply be given stickers or stamps to show their feelings for a particular day.  The idea is to create a feeling journal in which they document their emotional reactions to situations.   “Developing Children’s Emotional intelligence.”  By Shahnaz Bahman and Helen Maffini.  We have attached a complete list of words and images that the kids should be using when writing their journals.  Children should be encouraged to use as many descriptive words as possible to help them identify their true range of feelings.

………………For more information about the Kids First Parents Second program contact us at mattsossi@bsossi.com.  For more information about our program visit us at http://www.kidsfirstparentssecond.org  Thank you.

A Different Path – Las Vegas Speech

In January of 2015 there was an article in the AFCC Family Law Journal that talked about the creation of an interdisciplinary model to help parent’s work through and resolve their family law disputes.  The interdisciplinary model requires a “team based” approach, incorporating the work of therapists. counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists and attorneys who are to work hand and hand to minimize conflict.

There are many reasons why it is beneficial for parents to use a team based approach.   Parents may be young and immature and may simply need help learning effective ways to communicate with one another.   Other parent’s have a hard time emotionally overcoming their divorce and need team based approach to reduce tension.   A team based approach may help parents reach an agreed parenting plan when there are control issues between the parents.  Other parents that have mental health issues or dependency issues need constant attention of therapists and counselors beyond what an attorney and court can provide.  .

Personally I’ve had great success with using a team based approach to resolving conflict.  Clients normally prefer to resolve their differences in private than in court.   Many see the interdisciplinary approach as a way to quicken the divorce process.  Many experienced family attorneys who see no end to their client’s conflict see the team based approach as the best way to resolve prolonged conflict.  I’ve personally seen client’s drinking coffee with their ex right after the divorce, grateful to be able to have a system where they had the ability to work through their differences and reach agreements for their child’s behalf.

A team based approach is also a great way to help many parents understand the way to resolve future disputes.  Parent’s can first contact a parent coordinator, parent facilitator before contacting an attorney to see what SOLUTIONS can be put on the table by this neutral third party. A team based approach most obvious benefit is to save parents the thousands of dollars it would take to getting their cases resolved through court and “finalized.”

We need to start discussing how to make the “Team based” approach more efficient so we can resolve a greater percentage of divorce cases outside of court and even prior to mediation.

When I opened Kids First Parents Second, I decided to that the first step was to find a way to help motivate parents to move away from conflict. Rather than reinvent the wheel I looked around to see what other team based models other organizations had created over the years.

I was impressed by the work of two organizations, Kids Turn and Kids First out of Portland Maine.  Kids Turn is an organization designed by some family law attorneys in San Francisco.  The idea they came up with was to include children in the divorce process.  If children could express themselves, parents would better focus on their children’s needs and want to resolve the conflict they had with their ex.    Kids Turn applied emotional techniques to get children to identify and express emotions.  The side benefit of the Kids Turn program was to help parents understand the effect the divorce (and conflict) had on their kids.   The Kids First Program in Main followed a similar path.

To me it was important to start doing workshops myself to see the benefits of including children for myself.    Before I started I talked to my wife Becky and we decided that we needed to create materials to help kids cope with divorce.  When we opened up shop I noticed the effect that the kids workshops had on parents – simply put, I saw the kids approach as a game changer in helping parents wanting to resolve their conflict. Many nights and days were spent coming up with the concepts behind our website, our children’s books, our manuals and our KFPS app.

Educating parents on the needs of their children requires parents to change FOCUS.  A team based approach helps parent’s resolve their differences as they are lost on how to effectively communicate with their child’s other parent.

For the practicing family attorney, I simply will say this.  Do not base the way you resolve your client’s issues based solely on the high conflict parent.  Many clients are looking to you for direction on how to resolve simple disputes with their ex spouse.  A team based approach is a powerful way to help your clients find solutions to their conflict.

Rediscovering the wheel- The interdisciplinary approach to resolving family law disputes

New research and family law articles propose resolving family law conflict through the use of a new interdisciplinary approach, one in which therapists, attorneys’ interact and work together to resolve conflict.   The interdisciplinary approach is being proposed as the “new way” we should handle family law disputes.

Personally I’m glad that the interdisciplinary approach is being recognized as a way to resolve conflict.  This approach however, is far from new.  Look at Kids Turn in San Francisco and Kids First in Portland Maine.  Kids Turn was formed by a few family lawyers who saw the need to work together with therapists, children and parents to resolve family law disputes.  Kids First out of Portland Maine works with therapists, attorneys, parent’s and kids to focus on ways parents can resolve disputes out of court.  Kids First in fact offers seminars to professionals, therapists, attorneys to figure out how to discover alternative ways to resolve family law conflict.  Kids Turn and Kids First have both been around for over a decade and have achieved great success.   (I’m mindful to note that many experienced family law attorneys have also been using a team based approach in their practice for decades.)

Before we all sit down and applaud, lets recognize those organizations who took the time to successfully adapt their own interdisciplinary approach to help families in crisis.

The question is how to get family law courts to use the interdisciplinary approach. The challenge includes getting professionals to understand the need to involve and providing quality service to children of divorce.  Failure to include kids based services means ignoring the successes of Kids First and Kids Turn.  No need to rediscover the wheel all over again.

To Kids Turn, Kids First and all those organizations like you, we salute you.

Including teenagers in the divorce process…Step One

Teenagers pose the most difficult challenge to parents involved in divorce.  Including a teenager in the divorce process appears, on it’s face, to be doing nothing more than adding gasoline to the fire.  Why should we give teenagers a voice when we create a parenting plan that mom dad are required to live by?

In most family law cases we have an active mom AND and active father.   How these active mom’s and dads interact with one another is a key ingredient whether these children will succeed or fail.   The key question is whether or not a teenager can assist his or her parent’s in coming up with an effective parenting plan that helps minimize future conflict.  Obtaining an answer to this question requires us to look at the benefits to both the divorcing parents and affected teenager.

The benefits of including a teenager’s voice for the parents:

a.   Requires them to focus on the needs of their children

b.   Directs them to making decisions as a family, making them work together and solve the needs of their children

The benefits for a teenager who has a voice in their parent’s divorce:

a.    More in control over their lives and present circumstances

b.    Less threatened about their future stability

Of course, teenagers must be taught to separate their thoughts and feeling.  Seeing how the child is impacted by the divorce is a vital part of getting the parent’s to change their focus from litigation to meeting the needs of the child..

A teenager will want to know exactly how their parent’s divorce will effect their life.  A teenager will want to know that this divorce will not effect their ability to play sports, not mean that they will lose relationships with friends, etc..  A teenager is going to want flexibility incorporated in the parenting plan.  Parents will want to meet the teenagers need for flexibility to be within defined proper boundaries.  The agreement reached between parents and teenager should be reduced to writing and included in the parties parenting plan, just like a loving and caring order, just like the children’s bill of rights.  Parents should also come up with a set of rules they both require the teenager to abide by.

Giving that teenager a voice gives him stability, and gives him a feeling that they matter. A child who feels included is not going to feel abandoned or excluded.  Giving the teenager fixed boundaries provides the teenager with the direction that he or can grow and develop.

It is Kids First Parents Second mission to create an environment to help families resolve conflict.  Parents involved in divorce who adopt a kids first parents second philosophy have the best chance of meeting the long term needs of their children.