half smile and willing hands

Half-Smile and Willing Hands – Parenting with DBT: A Series on Effective Parenting Strategies

The Mind-Body Connection: Half-Smile and Willing Hands

Think of a stressful parenting situation you’ve been in lately.  . . riding out a tantrum, getting homework done, confronting your teen about a lie. How were you feeling? What were you thinking? Were you aware of any sensations in your body?

We often think about how situations and stress impact our bodies. But, research also shows that our bodies can impact our minds and how we can experience events. In other words, the relationship between mind and body goes both ways. As such, we can make use of our bodies to help ourselves feel better in stressful situations. Half-smile and willing hands are two DBT skills that focus on using our bodies to communicate with our brains that we are okay. They can help us regulate our systems, accept situations, and feel better in the moment.


  1. Relax the muscles in your face, from your forehead down to your jaw and chin.
  2. Allow the corners of your mouth to turn up ever so slightly.
  3. Adopt a peaceful facial expression.

Willing Hands

  1.  Seated: Place your hands on your laps, palms up and fingers relaxed and slightly curved,   as if you are receiving.
  2. Standing: Drop your shoulders down. Unclench your hands and turn the palms out, relaxing your fingers.
  3. Lying down: Unclench your hands, turn your palms up, and relax your fingers.

Case Study

Sam was having a tough time with his two girls, now 13 and 15 years old. He often found himself frustrated with what seemed like frequent complaints and demands. Sam noticed that he felt particularly tense when the girls came home from school and started complaining about teachers, peers, hunger, and fatigue. After learning DBT, Sam decided to use some body acceptance strategies when interacting with his girls after school. As soon as they arrived home, Sam used his half-smile and willing hands skills. It wasn’t drastic, but he did notice a change. Sam found that using his body to manipulate his experience allowed him to feel calmer and less reactive to the girls’ demands. They noticed Sam’s improved energy, and this created a positive feedback loop between them, introducing more peace and ease into the interactions at home.

More Help with DBT

If you want help with learning and implementing half-smile, willing hands, and other DBT skills for parenting and beyond, DBT therapy might be right for you. Here, you’ll learn a whole host of skills that can help you reduce suffering, parent more effectively, and create a life worth living.

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