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Parenting the Child You Have

October 25, 2019
By Carolyn Vallejos, Head of Lower School

For a child or an adult, it’s extremely powerful to hear someone say, “I get you. I understand. I see why you feel this way.” This kind of empathy disarms us.
- Dan Siegel

On Wednesday, October 16, we were pleased to have two exciting programs at New Garden Friends School. In the morning Dr. Kristin Bennett from Illumii presented a program to parents titled “Parenting the Child You Have.” Mid-day we welcomed area preschool directors and teachers to a similar program “Helping Parents Parent the Child They Have” to help guide educators in passing these strategies to their families.

Dr. Bennett began by sharing a bit about her life as a parent and her career background. She shared some of the lessons she has learned herself as a parent, including that looking too far in the future can cost you your ability to be present in the moment with your child. She shared her philosophy that all children are curious, capable, and worth listening to.

Dr. Bennett took parents and preschool educators through a couple of activities including creating a wishlist for your child or a child in your class, beginning with “I want my child” and then listing 5-10 goals. She asked parents and educators to imagine a conflict with the child and assign it a color. She then asked participants to think about why they chose this color. 

She encouraged participants to be present and wonder about the child. She shared that stopping, observing, and wondering can help us gain insight about children. 

Dr. Bennett shared brain research about the interplay between the limbic system (our emotional brain) and the neocortex (the thinking brain). She shared that when stress occurs, the limbic system (emotion) takes control over the neocortex (rational thought) leading to feelings, fears, and anxiety, and suppressing the ability to parent reasonably or lovingly. She said in these moments parents seek control.

She asked participants to ask themselves if they are seeking control with their child or connection with their child. She talked about how the parenting paradigm has shifted from the one many of us were brought up in, and that sometimes instinct kicks in from both the ways we were raised and from our brain. She said that learning new parenting strategies helps us not rely on instinct. 

Dr. Bennett shared that behaviors, conflict, and emotion are caused by a person trying to have a need met. For example, is the child trying to be seen or heard, be understood, feel accepted and unconditionally loved, or explore their own limits and boundaries?

She asked parents to consider how your mental state can impact your child’s mental state. In what way might your child’s behavior reflect your own? What does your child need?

Dr. Bennett also shared a tangible parenting strategy called the PEACE process, which is a 5 step system of connection. The first step is to pay attention. She encouraged participants to begin by focusing on paying attention to the child for the first week. During this time, observe without judgment or evaluation. See it here.

She talked to participants about seeking empowered parenting, or connection, instead of power over parenting, or control. She cautioned that when we start thinking that our child’s behavior is a reflection on us, that is when we start controlling. She encouraged participants to ask themselves, "What is it costing me to worry about a certain behavior?" 

Dr. Bennett encouraged preschool directors and teachers to be in partnership with parents and to approach conversations with curiosity and open-mindedness. She suggested they reflect back to parents what they hear them saying instead of jumping into solution mode. 

"Teachers are the expert in children of that age group, the parent is the expert in their child - together you can support success for the student."

Our programs with Dr. Bennett were extremely beneficial to the parents, preschool directors, and teachers. We appreciate her spending the day with us. She can be followed on instagram @illumii_reynolda or discover more and sign up for her parenting newsletter on her website.