Parents Are The Change

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Today I want to talk about a study that was recently published in the Journal of the American Academy of Childhood and Adolescent Psychiatry, on the efficacy of parent-based treatment in treating children with anxiety. I’ve linked the study up above, but for those who aren’t really into reading scholarly articles for fun- the basic premise of the study was that they had a sample group and they separated them into two groups at random: one group, the children who had been diagnosed with anxiety were treated in a standard group-therapy model. And the other group the children were given no therapy, but the parents were given guidance using a protocol they developed called SPACE (Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions). It found that parent-based treatment was just as effective as the child-based treatment, and for children who didn’t respond to child-based treatment, it was much more effective. 

So this was pretty validating for me. I mean, I’ve known this on a personal, anecdotal level for a long time, but it’s nice to have science confirm what I’ve observed! This is why I moved away from working 1:1 with kids and into parent coaching. For those of you who don’t know my background, I did early intervention in a variety of forms for about a decade, but the format I found worked BEST was when it was part of my mandate to involve the parents, to be coaching the parents to support their own child. Because then intervention wasn’t limited to the hours I was physically present. It put the parents in the driver’s seat.

You are the expert on your own child.

Parents want to be the expert on their own kids- there is no worse feeling than not knowing what’s going on with your kids. I had a Mom of one of my early intervention clients back in the day say to me once
“I’m only ever as okay as my least okay child” and now as a Mom…yeah! Truth! I mean, the nurture vs nature debate is over- we’ve figured it out- it’s both! How we nurture a child has a huge impact on how their nature gets expressed. There’s a whole field of science that’s blossomed around that very subject- it’s called epigenetics- the science of how lived experience alters gene expression.

That’s not to blame parents! We all do the best we can with what we know at the time. Many times when I start getting into epigenetics and the parent as the expert, parents get really harsh with themselves and start beating themselves up because they infer that whatever difficulties their child is experiencing is their fault. It’s not. Nature still has a lot of weight here. I see it as an incredible source of hope! Tweaking how you’re interacting with your child makes a serious impact! If the only thing that changes in your child’s life is how you guide them- your skills- then that has just been proven to be massively game-changing.

Parents Need Coaches Too.

Which leads to the other reason I moved into parent coaching. I know it works, and I know it makes a serious impact. On a one-woman scale, if I want to make a difference and empower as many parents as possible, I can do that a lot more effectively by coaching the parents rather than by working 1:1 with the kids. We have 250+ parents in ParentAbility, I can’t work with 200 kids a week! That’s impossible! A heavy caseload when I was in early intervention was 5 kids a week. That was a lot, and that was working morning, afternoon, and evening every weekday. By empowering the parents, by helping you become the expert on your own child- I’m able to support more than 200 kids at a time since most of the families have more than one child. So this is incredibly hopeful not just for me, and not just for the SPACE protocol that the study was done on, but for many modalities and many interventions because now it’s been validated! Changing your parenting does change your child from the inside out.

It’s an exciting time!

So I’m super excited about this. I often get asked how it’s possible that you can just change how you’re playing with, speaking to, or engaging with your children and that their behaviour will improve. I’ve been told more than once that that is a big claim. Again- this isn’t a shaming thing on parents because we do expect child rearing to be intuitive and come naturally on so many levels, but we generally spend very little time actually learning about how humans work. In fact, a lot of parents feel real shame when they start working with me because they feel like they’re admitting that this isn’t coming naturally. Generally in western society admitting that you need support is shameful and we need to stop that! On a societal level, we need to get over that. We’re extremely complicated organisms and as I’ve said, we’re usually only as okay as our least okay child. So I 100% understand the friction and the shame that this information can cause. The “I caused this, it is something I’m doing wrong and if I was just a better mother than he wouldn’t be like this.”
NOOOOO. Pump the breaks. Don’t go there, because that’s not true. The biggest gains my clients have made have been the tiniest tweaks to what they’re already doing. It takes so much courage to sit with yourself and say “Something about what I’m doing isn’t working and I need another set of eyes to figure out what that is” … because so often you’re too damn close to it. You’re emotionally invested, this is your baby, and you’re trying your hardest, but every so often good intentions coupled with big emotions lead to some not so adaptive strategies.
I am a prime example of that- heck, just last week I was talking to my friend and former colleague about my two-year-old who has…well, to put it nicely he’s become the Tasmanian Devil on meth and I was like stumped. Everything I was doing was making it so much worse! Not to sound cocky, but you are reading my post on parenting and child development- I’m not the average parent. I mean, I know what’s up when it comes to these things. I am genuinely the expert on my own kids. So I was seriously on the struggle bus because I too close to it because it’s not a client- it’s MY baby! To be honest, though, it was also kind of taking a kick to my ego which just poured more emotion on to it than there already was. So I really genuinely needed someone who wasn’t in it, who hadn’t spent the last week wrestling him, listening to him scream, and getting into everything to look at the bigger picture and stick a pin in it for me. To quote my one of my favourite people, “perspective is everything.” Having to ask for help is humbling so I do empathize there with you. I’ve been there too. 
What I want you to take from this information is HOPE. Fixing what’s broken can be as easy as changing your perspective, tweaking what is already working, and trying something new in place of something that isn’t. It doesn’t have to involve dragging your kids to specialized programs and appointments, running through provider after provider until you find one that clicks with your child AND that you like AND is effective, or even going to specialized programs yourself! We can move mountains as parents with relatively little effort when we know how to use our leverage properly.

Kids are Like Car Seats

Actually, that’s a great comparison- I’m also a certified child passenger safety technician, also known as a car seat technician. So every week I teach between 2 and 10 parents how to correctly use and install their car seats. And more than once I’ve had a big, strong Dad, like, I live near a military base- we’re not short on hefty, buff men- who comes with his wife and challenges me to get that car seat in tighter than he did. It must be incompatible because there is NO WAY that I can get that car seat in any tighter than they have and it’s still sliding all over the seat. You know what? I always do because I know the proper technique. I know how to use my leverage correctly- where to push, where to pull, what to wiggle, even where to stand. It’s the same thing with parent education- if I can teach you where to push, when to pull back, what to focus on- then you’re going to move the needle so much faster with much less effort. That’s exciting, right?
What’s MORE exciting is that I have a way for you to do that! If you would like to start down this path of increasing your knowledge, getting ideas on where you could possibly tweak what is working so it works BETTER, and change what doesn’t, here is my popular free class the 8 Skills Your Child Needs to Master to be Misbehaviour-Proof. I’m going to break down my system of figuring out where a child is specifically struggling, where they’re naturally excelling in terms of the specific mental tools that we use to govern our behaviour, and then how we support them in developing those tools so that it’s easier for them to use them. So this is a full-length, two-hour workshop. You can join us from a computer, which I do recommend, or you can join on a mobile device- there’s nothing to download- it just works right in your browser.

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About Allana

Hi, I’m Allana. I teach parents of toddlers and preschoolers why their children are misbehaving and what to do about it without yelling, shaming, or using time-outs. When not teaching parents about behaviour you can generally find me chasing around my two boys, reading cheesy romance novels, or hanging out with my own parents.

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