Positive Parenting Support

By Kane Phelps
Special to the Palisades News

Lola Coffey’s Viewpoint, “Understanding How to Parent,” in the July 20 Palisades News provides a profound statement about our culture and the challenges facing parents today.

Thankfully, Lola discovered the wisdom of Dr. Alison Gopnik that was expressed in the metaphor of the garden (the child) and the gardener (the parent). The core principle of love as the highest value is indisputable.

Here in Pacific Palisades, my fellow therapist, Jordan Marks, and I have observed the intense pressure that children experience due to their parents’ high expectations. Those expectations appear to be fueled by the community at large.

“My daughter is headed to an Ivy,” a parent proclaimed of his 10-year-old who was struggling with school. Further observation has revealed there are a plethora of parents who want their children to succeed based on community expectations, but sometimes don’t see the cost to the child’s welfare.

Children can get trapped with pressure, parents trapped with blame. The pressure and blame cycle can be hard to unravel.

There is one statement that Lola quotes that Jordan and I would take exception to: “The idea that parents can learn special techniques that will make their children turn out better . . . is fundamentally misguided.”

The past 10 years has rendered extraordinary brain research at UCLA. As a result of this research, Dr. Daniel Siegel and his partner, Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., have published two books that demonstrate the efficacy of positive parenting strategies on children’s brain development and behavior: The Whole Brain Child and No Drama Discipline.

Siegel and Bryson posit that discipline, the word itself, means “teaching” and hence, not “punishment.”

Teaching is ineffective when children are in a reactive (upset) state. Teaching is a skill. These researchers demonstrate how to build the “yes” brain, with core strategies that range from playfulness (involving whole body, such as jumping, dancing, or just acting silly, using accents, etc.) to reflective listening and “attuning.”

The idea is for the parent not to stifle but rather to shift the reactive (upset) state to one that is more receptive to dialogue and reflection. When parents become reactive and yell, threaten, or challenge, children will often either escalate or withdraw. Teaching is not possible.

Siegel and Bryson emphasize the importance of self-care and “being gentle with ourselves” in order not to let the stresses of parenting become overwhelming.

Starting on Monday, August 29, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., Jordan and I, in partnership with the Palisades-Malibu YMCA, will be offering a FREE parent support group. In addition to nurturing a sense of community with Palisades parents, our goal will be to impart some of the strategies enumerated in the two excellent books by Siegel and Bryson.

(Editor’s note: Kane Phelps, MA, LMFT has 30 years of experience working with parents and families. Jordan Marks, MA, PPSC, LMFT has 15 years of experience working with children and teens. The Palisades-Malibu YMCA is located at 821 Via de la Paz and the class will be held in the second- floor conference room. Parents are asked to call in advance to confirm attendance: (310) 454-5591.)

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