Biostime - a global leader in the future of pediatric nutrition - recently brought a group of parents together to discuss parenting the next generation with behaviour specialist Stephanie Wicker of Simply Kids....
We took away so much from the round-table (hint: “Young children have an underdeveloped cortex meaning their ability to reason is almost non-existent, especially when they’re emotional” – and that’s just the beginning). Here’s what she had to say… For more information on Biostime and their ultra-premium organic toddler milk drink and probiotics, go to www.biostime.com.au and watch the video below | For more on Stephanie’s work, go to www.simplykids.live
If you had to sum up what your approach is when it comes to coaching parents, how would you describe it? What parenting style do you coach?
Working with children and families for over fifteen years has taught me that there is simply no ‘one way’ to raise kids! More often than not, parents are doing the best they can with what they know. That’s why I consider myself more of an educator than a parent coach. When people know better, they do better. My goal is to educate parents which empowers them to go from reactive and overwhelmed to responsive and connected.
What are some of the most common problems your clients have?
The most common challenge my clients face is the tendency to take children’s behaviour so personally. When we believe that children are out to make our lives hard it can create a barrier in the relationship. Through education and simple, common sense tools parents can rebuild that connection and relate to their children during difficult behaviour which, ultimately, allows them to support their growth and development and recreate a calmer, happier home.
What are some simple exercises we can think about as parents to help us overcome our own negative patterns and not hurt our children?
Two simple exercises we can consider to overcome negative patterns are having realistic expectations of ourselves and of our children. If we think about what often gets in the way of supporting our kids fully it is either our tendency to self-shame or blame children for their behaviour. Guilt-lead parenting and child-blaming are powerful and can lead to painful family relationships. Having realistic expectations is a great place to start when your aim is to make changes in those patterns.
Talk us through some easy ways to boost your children’s resilience and confidence?
The easiest, most effective way to boost your young child’s resilience and confidence is simply asking more questions! When we ask questions children feel relevant. When we offer opportunities for children to solve their own problems they feel empowered. Resilience and confidence begin with an understanding of your sense of self. Asking questions stimulates those connections in the brain and helps children define their role from an early age thus leading to a confident, bright future. I teach all of my clients how to replace telling with asking.
How do we respond during a toddler’s tantrum – what are some strategy’s we can lean on?
I often share these four tips for toddler’s tantrums because they have proven so effective over the fifteen years I have been working with youngsters and their parents. The first thing is to understand and monitor or use of stressors such as the word, “No”. “No” or “Not now”, can be a stressor at any age. Toddlers who lack the ability to regulate their emotions are especially affected by these stressors. I teach families alternatives to using stressors with their young children in order to boost their self-soothing and problem-solving early on. The next tip is to remain calm. I know this is hard but it is so important. During these early stages, it is our role to be the self-soother for our children. The bigger and bubblier those behaviours become, the calmer and quieter we should become. My third tip for tantrums is choosing one phrase that soothes you and your toddler. This can as simple as, “I know this is hard.” This one sentence triggers a response in our brains to relate to our child in the moment which can feel almost impossible sometimes. So, give it a go and watch the magic happen! Finally, the fourth tip is to model and reinforce breathing patterns during your little one’s outburst. During these early years, self-regulation begins physiologically. Think about the clarity that follows after a few deep breaths. Every tantrum will include a few, peaceful moments where your child gulps for air. This is the moment to soothe and encourage. Your praise may seem meaningless in the moment but over time and consistency, your toddler will begin to return to the deep breaths due to the chemical reaction you’re inducing during those brief moments of praise. And that’s it! Focus on these four tips and your toddler’s tantrums will gradually be replaced with their growing ability to regulate and self soothe. It’s a process and you won’t necessarily get it “right” every time but with some consistency, your calm will become your child’s calm. It’s important to remember that tantrums are natural and our goal is never to get rid of them. They are a necessary component in your little one’s development. These are tips for coaching them through these big emotions setting them up for a resilient childhood.
For many mothers, it’s hard to stay calm when your child won’t stop a tantrum. Often, a mother will end up yelling at her children. How can we remain calm when children are at their most testing?
As mentioned above, choosing a mantra can go a long way! Not only is it soothing but it also allows us to relate to our child no matter how difficult or loud the behaviour becomes. In addition to a mindful mantra such as, “I know this is hard for you.” we can increase our ability to remain calm by understanding that these tantrums are not personal nor intentional. They are a necessary stage in your little one’s early years.
Miranda Kerr talks motherhood and more
What kind of impact does yelling at a child have on them?
Yelling at anyone, especially a young child, evokes one of three responses. When we look at the brainstem and how stressors affect our responses we can find three common reactions in the brain during yelling. The first one is avoidance. You may find your child avoids you or no longer listens when you’re yelling. The second is helplessness. A child may stop putting in any effort completely. Lastly, we see aggression. Children may begin to yell back or yell at smaller, weaker children/pets. The consequences of yelling can be downright devastating.
Smacking was once common place – talk us through what impact this has on a child and why it’s not the most effective form of discipline?
Similar to yelling, smacking also has an impact on the brainstem leading to avoidance, feelings of helplessness and possible aggression. Not only is smacking harmful for the reasons listed, but it is also ineffective often having the opposite result that we may expect. Parents smack because it “works”. Children become scared and “shape up” in order to avoid more pain or embarrassment. This quick adjustment in their behaviour reinforces the likelihood of the parent smacking again. However, what smacking does is teaches children to conform based on fear. It does not provide them with new life skills that will allow them to cope through confrontation or their next challenge. We all know that life is full of challenges. Parents that rely on smacking or spanking as their disciplinary tool are missing out on the opportunity to boost their child’s core values and sense of identity that comes with emotional coaching.
Why do children become aggressive?
Aggression is an avenue for children to get their needs met. There are many functions behind aggression. Some children need support coping in confrontational situations. Others need support expressing their needs or frustrations. Once we take the time to understand and hear what they’re saying behind the aggressive behaviour, we can truly support them.
Sibling fighting – it drives us crazy. But we’re also aware it’s normal. How do we best cope with kids who seem to fight and fight?
My response to children behaving aggressively is offering a replacement or a “break”. “Would you like to try again and say, ‘I don’t like when you take my toys!’ or have a quick break over here with me?” Children thrive when their needs are met, their behaviour understood and their opportunities to practice resilient, life skills are abundant.
Why do we often resort to punishment with children?
There are a couple reasons that parents may resort to punishment. A big reason is that we simply do not know what else to do. Another reason is that punishment was used by our parents when we were growing up and it’s all we know. Finally, even when we do know better it is common to be drawn to punishment when we are in an emotional, reactive state. When we experience something stressful our foremost drive is to take back control. Punishment is a way to control another individual and so often becomes a fallback during difficult behaviour. Punishment can seem very alluring because of its reinforcing nature. Children adjust their behaviour in order to avoid the pain or shame that a parent inflicts on them and this can motivate the parent to repeat this process.
Why is challenging behaviour not a toddler’s fault?
Challenging behaviour is not your toddler’s fault because they have very little choice in how they react to their big emotions. When we consider their brain development we really have to look at three core issues. The first is their prefrontal cortex. The cortex is where we do all of our thinking and regulating. Young children have an underdeveloped cortex meaning their ability to reason is almost nonexistent, especially when they’re emotional. The second is their egocentric stage of development. Children are simply not able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes during those first few years leading to common confrontations with others. Finally, due to their underdeveloped cortex, youngsters are primarily relying on their primal midbrain to make their decisions. The midbrain (this will come as no surprise to parents with toddlers!) is where our emotions and feelings of discouragement are stored. When you combine these three toddler facts we find the perfect recipe for tantrums, aggression and defiance!
Three simple tips you share with all parents on how to teach positive behaviour?
For those of you that are teachers, you will be familiar with these three steps I share with all of my clients eager to boost positive behaviours. In every classroom, the teacher follows a lesson plan format. Step one is model the lesson. Step two is walk through the lesson together. Step three is allow the learners to practice with your feedback available. While this may be an oversimplification, I believe it is an excellent rule of thumb for teaching any desired behaviour. From coping when a brother breaks their lego fort to getting dressed for school on time, these steps will rocket your children towards that goal.
Many mothers feel guilty for working long hours – particularly if their children are in long day care. How can we ease this guilt – is it bad if your child is the last one to be picked up or the first one dropped off?'
What a wonderful question! I love this question because a) so many parents can relate and b) it shows a genuine drive to put parenting first. I think the answer (maybe surprisingly) is absolutely not! It is not bad for your child to be the last one picked up or the first one dropped off. I worked as a preschool teacher and ECE for over six years before working in therapy. If those educators glued a camera to the wall and you could watch your little one at daycare or preschool, 99.9999% of the time your child would be having a blast! So often, we place guilt on ourselves because we have unrealistic expectations. When it comes to daycare drop off and pickup, the truth is that most children are having a ball the second mama is out of site! So, chin up and drop that guilt! In association with Biostime