The Power of You
Surviving & Transcending Unconscious Parenting | Katherine Winter-Sellery | TEDxChandlersCreek
Katherine Winter Sellery and Claryss Nan Jamieson on trigger points and neutralization of them
Katherine Winter-Sellery and Terryann Nikides on spirited children and monster moms.
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Parents’ biggest battles with their children are often over the smallest things: refusing to share a favourite toy with a sibling, leaving a supermarket without buying that special snack, saying goodbye at the end of a play date. For Kendra Moran and her eight-year-old daughter, Keira, the flashpoint was clothes.
‘We fought endlessly over what she would wear; she wanted flip-flops and shorts when it was cold outside; I wanted her to wear a pretty dress I’d bought for church,’ says Moran, a mother of three. ‘She’s always been eloquent beyond her years and after one of our shouting arguments, Keira said, ‘Mummy, you need to let me make some of my own decisions sometimes’. I realised I needed to change my parenting strategy.’
Most of us feel the ABCs of raising children should come naturally, but parents find it’s just not that simple. Like Moran, growing numbers are turning to parenting experts for help with conflict resolution, open communication and emotional support. And why not, asks the American, who used to work in ad sales. ‘For many of us who have had careers, it’s simply a case of looking at it like professional development or training. You have to do it with any craft you might learn, so why should parenting be any different?’
A wide number of courses are available in Hong Kong and experts are on hand to help negotiate the perilous waters of parenting. Katherine Sellery and Clarys Nan Jamieson have been teaching Dr Thomas Gordon’s Parent Effectiveness Training (Pet) course in the city for the past eight years. They were Moran’s first point of contact, and some of their tips have had a marked effect on her relationship with her daughter.
‘When it’s nine degrees outside, I’ll look out the window and say ‘it’s freezing, do you want to take a sweater or change your clothes?’ She always says she’ll bring a sweater and sometimes she is cold! But instead of forcing her to do it my way and making her hate me, she’s made that choice to be cold herself.’
The situations and themes are age-old, Sellery says. ‘The problems, the heartaches, resentment – they are all the same. If you use a ‘power over’ approach to parenting, eventually you will reap the harvest of at least one of the three Rs [retaliation, rebellion, resentment]’.
Jamieson adds: ‘The most important skill we teach parents is how to listen to or hear the child, or other person. We teach parents how to understand the child’s experience of a situation. This changes the entire relationship between child and parent.’
As they see it, it’s about meeting everyone’s needs and keeping all involved satisfied. Parenting is tricky, and communicating effectively with our children requires us to be conscious of hidden messages, and how our own behaviour can deteriorate when we are ‘triggered’ by something our children may do or say.
Margaret Yeh, who also has three children, first signed up for parenting courses after a blow-up triggered by her eldest son, Alex.
‘We had family coming in from out of town on a brief visit and I was running around, wanting the house to look just right everything to be perfect. The guests stayed too long and the children were tired. Before they left they wanted a family photo so I got the camera out, and two of the children flatly refused to take part. I started by bribing, then threatening and finally shouting; it got really unpleasant. My eldest had a huge fit, he was being blatantly rebellious and it was so embarrassing. I lost control, and in retrospect I can see I wasn’t taking the kids’ feelings into account. And the house was messy, so what? The parenting courses taught me to manage myself and be an advocate first for myself and my family – and not insist on something because it’s publicly expected.’
As with everything, however, it’s a matter of balance.
Lolita Schmalenberg, lower school guidance counsellor at the Canadian International School of Hong Kong, runs workshops and courses on parenting. She says one of the most common parenting mistakes is misunderstanding that limits are important and actually help children to feel safe – particularly young children.
‘Sometimes, the best thing we can do as a parent is to say no. Our job is to recognise the moments our children need us to be the parents. When their behaviour is in conflict with family values, when their behaviour is going to put them in jeopardy, a parent needs to protect the child by saying no and teaching them a different way to behave’.
Judy Chan Yuet-wah, a consultant from the Hong Kong Family Welfare Society, who also runs parenting courses, agrees: ‘One of the most common mistakes parents make is to be too child-oriented. We don’t dare give our children responsibility and goals. The result is today, parents tend to be overprotective and think children are fragile and delicate.’
It’s never too late to learn new techniques, says Schmalenberg. A course is relevant at all ages, from small children right through to young adults. When it comes to teenagers, she says, effective parenting is equally as important. Teens, even boys, still need to be hugged and reminded how valuable they are; to realise their parents absolutely love them and that they are valued for who they are.
Sellery and Jamieson, who encourage more parents of teenagers to attend their classes, echo these sentiments.
‘I think there is an erroneous belief that teenagers are rebellious and difficult no matter what a parent does,’ says Jamieson. ‘This is a time where children are beginning to strive for independence, and experience more adult-like behaviour. It’s also a time when parents need to influence their teens, but will not have this by using an approach based on punishments and rewards. Teenagers will turn to their peers for advice and counsel because they have learned that their parents can’t handle the truth.
‘We believe this is the time kids need their parents the most, as they are experiencing pitfalls and mistakes on their path to adulthood. However, parents – when they discover these ‘mistakes’ – usually punish, instead of using them to teach and explore adult solutions. This is why teens learn early they cannot trust their parents.’
No matter the age of the child, establishing open communication seems to be key, and something most parents are searching for.
‘The advice did make a difference to my relationship with Keira,’ says Moran. ‘Now I hear the uncomfortable conversations; she tells me everything. It’s good to know what’s going on in your child’s life because Hong Kong is such a pressure cooker and everyone gets caught up in it.’
With the city being such a cultural melting pot, do experts have to tailor their advice depending on who they are teaching?
Schmalenberg says our upbringing is clearly evident in how we parent our own children.
‘Naturally, culture plays a primary role in parenting. Whether Asian or North American, an effective parent needs to find the balance of offering appropriate amounts of freedom to explore, learn and develop within safe limits and values. Even among mixed cultural families, the two parents need to determine what values are important to them and discuss how they hope to teach these to their children.’
Sellery and Jamieson agree. ‘On the surface it may appear there are differences between cultures, but, on closer examination, I don’t think they are that different,’ says Sellery. ‘We have read about the tiger mums and dads, but I don’t think this is simply a Chinese characteristic. For example, we have taught many child concert pianists from various backgrounds and none of them will go near a piano today. They were forced to play as children, and achieved great things, but there was so much emotional pain associated with it they won’t go near a piano as adults. The rebellion is very strong.’
What is different, says Schmalenberg, is that today both parents are more aware of their importance. ‘In the past, many thought parenting was a one-woman job. Now both parents understand their influence in raising their child. Today’s parents really try to do what they think is best for the child.’
Parenting classes are open to everyone – dads, foster parents and grandparents – and they don’t have to be a one-off thing.
Parents like Yeh have sat the same course several times, while attending a host of other lectures and classes. In some cases, the student became the teacher. ‘I took Pet for the first time 15 years ago’ says Sellery. ‘I resat the class every year for five years before I became a certified instructor, and I have been teaching since 2004.’
So what do the experts believe are the most important lessons from a parenting course?
Chan says parent-child relationships are not a matter of skill and there are no fast fixes. ‘It’s an art of love and it takes time.’ Our kids need our compassion the most, when they seem to deserve it the least, says Sellery.
‘Really seeing this requires a lot of understanding about how kids show us when they are ‘drowning’; times when they are not able to meet their needs. Just this shift in perspective can engender a compassionate hand rather than a heavy one. Behaviour is a child’s loudest form of communication.’
It’s embarrassingly simple, agrees Moran, who says, in hindsight, a large component of the course was common sense. ‘If you respect their opinions they will be comfortable sharing them with you; if you yell at your kids, they will shut down. It’s all too easy to lose sight of the ‘why’ when your child is having a tantrum. I definitely have a temper but I’m much more aware of when I use it. I’m not perfect but I lose it rarely now – nine times out of 10, I walk away before I snap.’
Yeh says: ‘Parenting is hard and I know I was looking for reassurance that everything was going to turn out OK in the end. Of course, there is no such thing! I think every parent goes though a period when they are looking for a magic bullet. But taking courses helps to show that you are not alone, that your family is not the craziest (or that every family is equally crazy), and you are not going to scar your children forever.’
By Katherine Sellery | Published at SCMP
Most of the times we punish our children, they have in fact already been punished, and by dishing out our own punishment, we make the situation worse”
says Katherine Sellery.
When we talk about the merits or drawbacks of punishing children, we first need to stop and determine how we actually view the act that we may think needs punishing. People can see the same situation in many different ways and how we interpret a behaviour will determine what we think is the appropriate response and our reasons why. Jiddu Krishnamurti, religious philosopher and teacher said, “Observation without evaluation is the highest form of human intelligence.” So when a child is ‘out of control’, do we judge the offender as badly behaved, acting inappropriately, naughty and unacceptable? Or do we see it as developmental inexperience, natural exuberance, exploration, lack of information, a lapse of self-control?
If we were to compare how we feel when children make developmental or academic mistakes versus behavioural mistakes, do we notice a difference in our perspectives? If it is developmental – say a misspelled word – don’t we look at it as though children are trying to get things right and that errors are accidental? That kind of learning requires exploration and mastery requires lessons and practice, which will inevitably involve some mistakes along the way. If our children have difficulty achieving developmental expectations, they may need additional support and, in these cases, we seek out whatever they need so that they can develop the skills to feel successful.
With behavioural mistakes however, our assumption is often that children are trying to get things wrong, that the errors are deliberate, intentional, they could have done better, they purposefully chose not to do as we hoped. We assume that children should not explore rules and limits, should not make behavioural mistakes and that those children who have difficulty achieving behavioural expectations should be punished and certainly not be given warmth, support and understanding. We respond with: “Go to your room!”, “No TV!”, “No dessert!”, or “No iPad!”.
There is a negative underlying belief that informs this way of seeing things: that children have got to learn; give children an inch and they will take a mile; they are attention-seeking and manipulative; that adults can’t give in to children because if we do they will have won and we will have lost. This way of seeing is actually a choice. It’s ageism. We are actually punishing children for being children: for lacking the skills to regulate their emotions, to problem-solve or mediate their differences, for having lapses in either impulse control or emotional control or both. Where did we get the idea that banishing them to their rooms would teach them life management skills? It teaches them to be ashamed for having not had the skills to do better, to be ashamed of being a child, and to feel even less supported and understood, driving more disconnection.
A behaviourist or controlling style of discipline uses rewards (praise, treats, stars, merit awards, pocket money, access to preferred activities) and punishments (reprimands, time out, corporal punishment) to induce children’s compliance. A guidance approach to discipline uses no rewards or punishments but instead teaches children to act considerately and when they don’t, uses active listening, compassion and empathy to help them recover from their loss of control so that they can manage themselves and the situation with dignity. The guidance approach acknowledges that children will lose it from time to time and that when they do they will need support to gain emotional control again and to recover. Children need our compassion the most when they seem to deserve it the least. The core difference between the two styles of discipline is the ‘use of consequences’, which is a euphemism for punishment. If we believe that events outside of us determine our wellbeing, we are said to have an external locus of causality, and if we believe that we determine our own wellbeing we are said to have an internal locus of causality.
Choosing rewards and punishments reflects a belief in an external locus of causality and that either the desired behaviours are not being rewarded enough or undesired behaviours are accidentally receiving rewards (e.g. attention), or are not being punished enough.
In Dr Louise Porter’s book Children are People Too she states that 75 per cent of disruptive behaviour is a reaction to power being used on someone. In Dr Thomas Gordon’s book Parent Effectiveness Training he calls it the 3Rs – retaliation, resentment and rebellion. Regardless of age, if you use demand language it invokes a 3R response or escape. The more people hear demands, the less they like being around us because they feel controlled. When people hear demand language they feel pressured, instead of feeling that they have an opportunity to help meet our needs out of consideration for us. The resulting dance of the reactive, recursive cycle is then instigated by the original act of having used demand language in the first place.
According to Dr Marshall Rosenberg, founder of the Center for Non-Violent Communication, “Punishments may seem to work, but two questions that reveal the limitations of punishment are: (1)What do I want this person to do? (2) What do I want this person’s reasons to be for doing it?”
Dr Rosenberg continues, “Punishment and reward interfere with people’s ability to do the things motivated by the reasons we would like them to have. So what are the reasons they have for behaving as we request?” Dr Rosenberg says the reasons include: “Avoidance of punishment; fear of being rejected by parents; fear of upsetting parents; threats – fear that a hoped-for reward will be withheld; to avoid shame and guilt.”
An internal locus of causality believes that no one else can make us think, feel, or do anything. Also, we can’t make anyone else think, feel or do anything. So when children are falling apart it’s an inside job – they need to connect how they are feeling within themselves to what they are needing, or you could say what needs of theirs are not being met that gives rise to the how they are presenting. Address the underlying feelings and needs rather than judge the way they are presenting themselves when they can’t meet their needs, and you coach your child to break the cycle of blaming outside factors as the reasons or justification for their responses. This also teaches them to have self control (rather than to conjure up more outer control).
The goal of a controlling form of discipline (with rewards and punishments) is obedience and compliance. This goal is dangerous. It teaches children to be selfish and to focus on what they will get or what will happen to them instead of what others’ experience of them is. It’s also dangerous because children can’t differentiate which outer voices are safe to follow and which aren’t. The largest study on child sexual abuse determines that children will do as they are told when taught to be obedient and compliant, even to their own detriment.
We want children cooperating with us because it is the thoughtful thing to do, not because they’re afraid of what you are going to do to them if they don’t! The goal of the guidance approach to discipline is to teach considerate behaviour, self-discipline, (independent ethics), emotional regulation, cooperation, potency and self-efficacy.
Teaching consideration, expecting children to think about others, is far more demanding than simply requiring them to do as they are told. Obedience requires no thinking whatsoever, whereas guidance demands consideration of other people. Children’s repeated experience with having to surrender their own interests in the service of arbitrary compliance increases their oppositional tendencies and exacerbates hostility towards – and conflicts with – parents.
By Katherine Sellery
We want people to do things because they see how it enriches life. That is power: when we have the ability to motivate people from within. Non-Violent Communication (NVC) is a language of and for life and inspires compassion through joyful relationships in all areas of life through the expression of feelings andneeds. Beyond our habitual, automatic responses, is a compassionate connection away from and beyond judgment, criticism and blame. Marshall Rosenberg, author and Founder of the Center for Non-Violent Communication, became preoccupied most of his life with what connects and disconnects us from our natural compassionate nature. NVC’s goal is teaching us that power is with people, not over them.
In the forward to Rosenberg’s book on NVC, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson recounts his summer in India with his famous grandfather. Through his time there, he became aware of the insidious ways that passive violence fueled physical violence. This passive violence, in the form of rewards and punishments, judgement, shame, guilt and negative self-talk defines “violence” in the context of NVC. All are attempts to manipulate individuals and groups to make others do as they are told. Violence is not just physical acts such as fighting, beating and killings. As many individuals know, emotional violence can be as equally painful as the physical.
Marshall asks two questions clarifying why punishment can be confused with an effective form of communication.
If the person does what is being asked out of guilt, shame, fear of hurting the other person, risk of losing connections/love, or to avoid physical or emotional pain, then the action isn’t being done out of consideration for our needs.
Furthermore, using guilt tricks people into believing that they can create your feelings, and they are the cause of your suffering. What the other person does is a stimulus for our feelings but not the cause. How I feel about a situation depends on a whole range of factors from the choices I make, to the story I tell myself about the event, to the millions of filters created through my upbringing, my socio-economic status, color, gender, education and more. Using language such as, “I feel as I do in this situation because I need………” connects to our unmet need when the other person does or behaves in some way. Shame is a potent form of subversive violence towards individuals and groups. It invokes fear and self-rebuke to get what we want by using labels such as lazy, inconsiderate, rude, stupid, bad, selfish, naughty, etc. In NVC, any label that implies wrongness is a violent act. It’s trying to get people to do things out of guilt and shame.
Any language that allows us to deny responsibility for our choices is also a catalyst to violence . This is the defense of Amtssprache that Adolf Eichmann used during the war crimes tribunal when asked why he sent the Jews to the concentration camps and the gas chambers.
Dangerous words that deny responsibility for our choices include,
But, what happens when we use this language of judgment, guilt, shame and denial?
It creates the 3 R’s: resentment, retaliation and rebellion. Forcing a child, for example, to participate in an activity results in resentment towards the activity, perhaps retaliation in the form of arguing and protesting, and rebellion either immediately, over time or later in life. Conversely, NVC permits our needs to be heard as requests and not demands, where there is openness to discussion with the aim of a win-win solution.
When an individual is truly heard (known as ‘active listening’), he/she does not feel criticised. Energy can be focused on problem solving and conflict resolution rather then a defense. Hearing criticism in what people say, or worrying about what people think of you has terrible effects on how we see ourselves. Real discussion begins by separating observations from evaluation with a sprinkling of feelings and needs for empathic connection.
NVC is communication and learning where our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others is paramount. Unfortunately most language in our lives from the beginning of school throughout our working lives is that of authority and the use of rewards and punishment. NVC teaches not to give power to ‘authoritative sources’. Next time, instead of hearing the actual words coming out of a person’s mouth, try to determine what is behind the feelings and needs underneath what is being said. It is often quite a different message. By bonding at that deeper level of understanding, or at least attempting to really hear what is being said, we can connect to each other’s humanness and deepest need for connection. It is from this point of mutual understanding that we can truly communicate, problem solve, resolve conflict and motivate each other to reach our potentials.
By Katherine Sellery
Emerging Women is about a new paradigm for living, dreaming and working – a new paradigm for power that does not sacrifice our humanity.
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Last week I held a Facebook Live with Katherine Winter-Sellery, an Emerging Women member who is helping to solve the mental health crisis in our country by using meditation as the cornerstone of healing. She has created a summit with speakers like Marianne Williamson and Rep. Tim Ryanand many more to bring consciousness to the forefront of our mental health solutions. Big stuff! Her secret formula? I have summarized them here:
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