Dr. Amy Patenaude

Moms to Know: Dr. Amy Patenaude, ED.D., NCSP, A Child’s Path

What could 2023 look like if we understood our children’s minds and behavior development to build a better 2024 and beyond? What if we approached the “tough” seasons of parenting differently—How would that bond with our children look?  Amy Patenaude is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist and licensed school psychologist in Tampa who helps families make lasting positive changes. A business owner, educator and change-maker, Patenaude is a family advocate we need, and a mom to know.


TBPM: As someone who has always worked with children in education and now as a school counselor with a private psychology practice, what led you to founding A Child’s Path?

Dr. Amy Patenaude:  When I was younger, I often would play school with my brother and sister and loved nothing more than to be the teacher. As I grew up, I found myself interested in education and psychology and went on to study psychology [as] an undergraduate. After college, I ended up teaching for two years as a special education teacher and then as a kindergarten teacher in Hillsborough County.

Teaching was a professional springboard for me. I realized how much I enjoyed working with kids, and I could see how getting a graduate degree in school psychology would be beneficial. Both my thesis and doctoral capstone project focused on working with parents and families raising young children. I’ve always been interested in parents and how I can provide proactive, preventative strategies that foster and safeguard the parent-child relationship.

I officially started working in a private practice capacity in 2014, and it wasn’t until 2019 that I really started to see how I could grow and develop my business that would have a lasting, positive impact on the Tampa Bay community. I see my role as a trailblazer for parents and children who are navigating novel, challenging and unfamiliar experiences in life. I’m on their team and helping them map out their child’s future success. I work with them for a little bit to provide strategies, tips, and skills so that they can go out and navigate life.

The thing that is troubling to me is that we were already in a state of crisis when it comes to children’s mental health in the community and in our country. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the need for mental health services for children. According to the CDC, one in five children has a mental health concern, and many of these children have lack of access to services and support. I think some of this stems from the fact that there are a limited number of mental health providers in the community who work specifically with children and parents. In addition to this, there is often a long wait time for many of the services that children and their families so desperately need.

When I founded A Child’s Path, I was interested in taking my love of research-based practice and partnering with families and children to create change. In my practice, I offer three types of services: parent coaching, youth counseling and testing. I feel lucky because I have been able to see so many children who have flourished after going through counseling with me by learning how to manage their feelings of anxiousness and worry, parents who are confident in their parenting abilities after doing a few sessions of parent coaching, and children who receive appropriate educational services after an evaluation with me.


TBPM: According to askwonder.com, millennial moms spent $231.6 million on parenting books in 2017. That’s a whole lot of mamas seeking support and direction! How do you work with families and children and how is your approach/ framework more useful than a sea of paperbacks at Barnes & Noble?

Dr. Amy Patenaude: I think there are so many books out there because there’s so many different ways to approach a child and family. Every child is different, as is every family. One of the things that I talk about when I work with parents is “house rules.” I explain that “house rules” are designed to be the rules and expectations that each individual family has for their family. I started teaching this and working with families on this because I realize that not everyone has a same set of rules or expectations, and that is okay!

I think this is also where it gets tricky for parents because it’s easy to be overwhelmed with the plethora of information that is out there. There are so many choices and you don’t know what to pick and what to use. I think this is why so many parents seek out my advice and work with me because I am able to help streamline the process. When you work one-on-one with me, it’s really about understanding your unique experience as a parent, what your child brings to the table, and what you would like to see addressed for your family that would make everyone feel better about their things.

It comes down to understanding a child’s behavior and problem-solving the child’s behavior. We need to get to the root cause of the behavior and what purpose the behavior is serving. Here’s an example: let’s say you have a five-year-old who is having a temper tantrum. In one situation you find out that the child skipped breakfast and is hungry. The easy solution would be to provide the child with a snack. Most likely, that would decrease the tantrum and behaviors and the family would go on like normal. In another situation, let’s say the same child is having a temper tantrum, and you realize that the child was up all night due to an ear infection, is not feeling well, and is tired. In this case, some solutions may be to take the child to the pediatrician, have the child take a nap, or have some extra snuggles with a parent or a caregiver. Now, these are simple examples where a child was displaying the same behavior, but the solution to solve each of these problems was different. I think this is what is so key with parent coaching is the fact that you have to really understand the purpose behind a child’s behavior and how our responses impact the child, and then this will shape how we teach your child to behave.


TBPM: It’s the beginning of a new year, which introduces opportunities for a refresh and even new resolutions. What are some ideas that parents can implement now to make 2023 an even better year at home?

Dr. Amy Patenaude: One of the things that I teach as part of parent coaching is to focus on one thing at a time. I’m going to share three of my favorite things to work on with families and would encourage you to pick one thing that you would like to do with your family in 2023 and share your goal with your family.

First, develop your set of “house rules.” The whole family can participate in this activity. You may decide on a core set of three to five rules that each family member agrees to abide by. Typically, it is helpful to phrase each rule in positive language and focus on behaviors that are observable. Here are a few examples of rules that I’ve seen families use: cell phones stay on silent at dinner; we use kind bodies, words and thoughts in our family; one person speaks at a time; iPads are used on the weekends only; we speak to each other in a calm voice.

Second, I love sitting down as a family and setting goals for the new year. This can be something where each member of the family comes up with a goal that he or she would like to accomplish for the year. This can be especially helpful for children who are in elementary school and older. For example, you may have a child set a goal to learn how to ride a bike. Once a goal is set, you want to help your child then reverse engineer the steps needed to accomplish it. For example: get a bike and a helmet, try riding with training wheels, take the training wheels off and practice.

A final activity that I like to do is have regular scheduled family meetings. Family meetings can occur weekly or bi-weekly. It really depends on what works for your family. This can be an opportunity for parents to sit down and talk about what’s going on, communicate the plans, problem-solve any family challenges, plan fun family activities, and discuss chores.


TBPM: You also work 1:1 with children. What are some things a mother or father can look for if they suspect their child is struggling and may benefit from working with you?

Dr. Amy Patenaude: As a parent, it can be so hard when we see our own children struggling and it feels like we can’t help them. When it comes to your child’s mental health, there are some things that I typically look for that are indicators that a child may benefit from working with a professional mental health provider. First, I think it is important to look for changes in your child’s regular behavior, for example, if a child experiences weight gain, changes in mood, changes in sleeping patterns, changing friends and a loss of interest in normal activities of enjoyment. Second, I think it is important to look for whether or not these changes or challenges are happening across different settings. For example, if the child is having a hard time at home, with friends and at school, this is a pretty good indication that your child, as well as your family, may benefit from working with a mental health provider. Third, it’s important to look at the degree that the child’s symptoms and behavior impact the child. For some children, they may appear anxious about an upcoming assignment for school. However, they study and do the best that they can on that assignment. In this instance, that feeling of anxiety is a good thing because it motivates the child to study and to prepare for the task at hand. However, if the child is anxious and is worrying about an assignment that results in not being able to sleep, having stomach aches, being focused on only the upcoming assignment and alters his or her mood, this may be a sign that the child may benefit from speaking to somebody. Most importantly, if your child makes a statement of wanting to hurt himself/herself or others, I think it is critical to reach out to a provider immediately, such as a family physician or the crisis center.

I think it’s also important to remember that, as parents, it’s okay to ask for help, and we don’t have to know everything. Yet when it comes down to it, a parent really is the expert on their child, and knows them better than anyone else.


TBPM: Let’s talk about communication and securing a strong loving environment at home. Some of us are up against hard stages ahead. What can caregivers practice at home to keep lines of communication open with their kids? One tip: attend our first event together at Cru, Palma Ceia on Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 7:30 p.m. See @achildspath for more information on a group mom therapy interactive table talk on this topic!)

Dr. Amy Patenaude: One of my favorite quotes from Jane Nelson is, “When we treat children with dignity and respect, and teach them valuable life skills for good character, they will spread peace in the world.” As parents, we are our children’s first teacher and able to model appropriate behavior for our children. This can be said for keeping the lines of communication open with our kids. I think starting the conversation early with your child is important. We can model what active listening looks like, ask open-ended questions (such as, “How did you help someone at school today?” versus, “Did you help someone at school today?”) and spend one-on-one time with the child. Another important piece of keeping communication open is talking about mistakes and how they are an opportunity for learning how to handle something in the future.

Children thrive when they know what to expect and what’s coming next. One of the best things that we can do for our children is provide a safe, secure, loving parent-child relationship. Communication is key!


TBPM: What do you love to do with your family in Tampa Bay?

Dr. Amy Patenaude: As a Tampa native, I’ve loved growing up here and raising my family here. There are so many fun, engaging things to do in our community. Our family enjoys being outdoors and loves going to Fort Desoto. We love impromptu ice cream family nights at Chill Bros. Sometimes, when I need to have some solo time, I enjoy going to Buddy Brew for a latte and avocado toast.

Originally published in January 2023 of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.