1. What does it mean to empower parents?
Well, parenting is a confidence game, so to me, empowering parents has a lot to do with developing their confidence.
2. How do you empower parents in your work?
To me, a lot of confidence comes from knowing that you have a plan. Getting clear is about focusing on your values and prioritizing them. The advantage of clarifying your values is that it helps you know where you’re going, both in the short run and in the long run. In fact because it is so important, I start most of my workshops asking parents to list out and prioritize their values. This allows parents to focus on what is important to them and not worry too much about the rest of it. Let me give you an example. Let’s say that one of your values is being safe. Then let’s say that your kids are running around the courtyard making a ton noise screeching like banshees. You might feel like it’s a bit much, but you see that you are disturbing anyone else and you ask yourself, Is it safe? Since the answer is yes, you decide to let them keep running. Now, if you have a value of kids being calm and controlled, you would probably ask them to settle down. Running around and screaming would be a clear point to take action.
3. What are some skills you know that parents need to feel smart and empowered in their parenting role?
Well, I’m not sure I would call it a skill—more of a quality that I’d like parents to cultivate—and that is EMPATHY. Being empathetic is one of best tools in your tool belt. We used to give kids time outs to send the message that if you cannot behave nicely, you cannot be part of the group. Neuro science has helped us understand in the last 10-15 years that children actually learn more about self-regulation when we are empathetic. At the end of the day we want children to be able to feel negative emotions and then process them themselves—either by using their words with us and others or through their own self talk. By offering empathy when they are upset, our calm helps their nervous systems calm down. When kids feel safe and supported, they are better able to access their prefrontal cortex which is where their clear thinking and reasoning goes on. I know to some parents it might feel like you are babying your child. After all, he starts to cry and whine, your instinct might be to put him away from you and ignore him. Current research actually invites us as parents to get close and offer empathy, “I know son. It is hard having to pick your toys up and go to bed.” This doesn’t mean of course that you should require your child to pick up his toys when you ask. Being empathetic does NOT mean not being firm and following through. It does mean not yelling or nagging. This might mean that you put your hands on his toys so he cannot use them, while at the same time looking in his eye, empathizing that it is hard, but then repeating firmly. It is time to pick up your toys.”
4. What do you think is the most common parenting issue that you come across? Why?
Well, with little kids it is very clearly tantrums and out of control behavior, and that is totally developmentally appropriate. Think how you feel when you are on a steep learning curve—maybe you have a new job—everything is different and the company culture is totally different than your lastone, so strategies and approaches you used there aren’t working, and you feel at best like a fish out of water and at worse like an incompetent failure. That’s pretty much what little kids are encountering all the time—new skills, new concepts, new situations, new expectations. AND they have to rely on us to make sure they have had had enough rest, sleep and food. That’s a lot to regulate. It’s no wonder that they lose it. That’s why empathy is so important. When you start from the point of recognizing that your child does not want to be out of control, it is much easier to put your arms around him, give him a big hug and see if that will push the restart button.
5. Can parents bring other aspects of themselves into their parenting role to help them manage their families more effectively?
Of course! My husband is an engineer. That means he is logical, linear thinker. It also means that he gets less upset about what has happened (the vase broke, the bike got stolen) and is more concerned about how to solve the problem. This is a wonderful example for our kids because it tells them that though stuff will happen, what is important is how you move forward from there.
6. Share one of your favorite ways to work with parents and families.
Well, one of my favorite programs that I offer is my Six Week Group Coaching Program that offers a combination of group webinars on specific topics and one-one individual coaching to modify what we have learned to the needs of each individual family. Lots of time a parent will read an article with a tip or technique and it will seem to make sense to them, but when they go to put it in action, it just doesn’t work. That’s where the individual coaching makes such a difference.
7. Why do you think our society has such a difficult time supporting parents?
Wow. That’s a complex one because it has so many pieces. When people say that parenting used to be easier, I think one of the main reasons was that families lived closer together. Families were more connected. They visited each other all the time. My sister lives five miles from me, and we practically have to put a date on the calendar to see each other—much less gather our husbands and children. By the time I have driven one child to a soccer game here and another one to a birthday party there—and she has gotten her children to where they need to be—the chance of there being time to just hang out goes way down. Running around like a chicken with my head cut off means that I don’t have time to sit at the kitchen table and compare notes with another family with kids my age. We’re always so rushed, we tend to keep things superficial with our friends and colleagues. We share the highlights on Facebook, but we never get the advice and reassurance that used to support parents.
8. Do you have any thing else that you want to share with us? Oh, thank you for asking. I would love to tell listeners about my new book, Parenting as a Second Language: A Guidbook for Joyfully Navigating the Trials, Triumphs and Tribulations of Parenthood. The premise is that parenting is not something we are born knowing how to do. We are social creatures living in social groups. Historically, children were always near at hand, so parenting was spoken and modeled all around you. Nowadays, lots of parents—even moms—come to parenting having done no babysitting, no childcare. They haven’t spent time any around kids since they were kids themselves. That means they do not know how to speak parenting, so arriving home with a new infant is like being in a foreign country and not knowing the words and phrases you need. No wonder parents are so anxious! Well, that’s where my book comes in. It is a combination of stories—some of my most embarrassing ones!—to illustratepoints and concrete exercises parents can do to help them become more confident, effective parents. Parenting is a skill. It can be learned and practiced, just like learning a foreign language. Parenting as a Second Language helps you do that. I would be thrilled for your audience to go to Amazon, buy the book, read it and then come over to my Facebook Author's page and join the discussion. We still need the parenting village. Now we are finding it with people like you, Mercedes, who are providing a chance to hear the language of parenting through interviews like this one.