Parenting, Love and Connection with Jennifer Kolari

Parenting, Love and Connection with Jennifer Kolari

by Chris Tompkins | November 1, 2022

Jennifer Kolari is a parenting expert and family therapist with practices in both Toronto and San Diego. Her quick wit and down-to-earth style, along with her love-centric approach to parenting, called “Connected Parenting,” have made her a highly sought-after speaker on the international stage. She has written two books about her Connected Parenting model and she offers practical and effective tools to enhance the parent-child bond through her own weekly podcast by the same name.

Parents’ role as the substitute frontal lobe

In speaking of the biggest shift she has seen over her 30 years of practice, Jennifer explains that while there used to be a parent-centred form of parenting — i.e. “children should be seen and not heard,” there is currently a child-centred model that gives children a level of control that they neither can handle nor want. She explains that the frontal lobe is the part of the brain that controls safety and security and that it’s not fully developed until a child is in their 20s so it is the parents’ responsibility to stand in for this under-developed lobe.

“Our job is to inhibit, organize, prioritize, help our kids take perspective,” she explains. “And that’s why parenting is so hard, right? Because what’s the job of the midbrain? To push back.”

Reconciling a parent-centred model with a child-centred model

Jennifer is quick to point out that while there were problems with the parent-centred model, like spanking in school and kids’ inability to question authority, children have an innate need for hierarchy and she says that the lack of hierarchy in today’s child-centred parenting model is responsible for an uptick in emotional regulation issues and anxiety among children. Through her practice, Jennifer helps parents learn how to set limits in a loving and compassionate way so that children feel safer.

The case for letting your child develop neurological hardware

Jennifer makes the case for letting kids run into healthy adversity in their lives so that they grow up having had the full experience of being human, which produces empathetic and responsible adults. She explains that when parents are overly involved in their kids’ lives and do things like call a coach to make sure their child gets on a team, it not only prevents the child from facing healthy adversity, but it can also be bad for their mental health. In this case, the child then thinks that their parents are freaking out so it must be a bigger deal than they thought. Jennifer explains that the result is often that children stop going to their parents to talk about their problems because they have to worry about their parents’ feelings on top of whatever issue they’re facing. Or they begin to under-function because they don’t have to take care of themselves — their parents do everything for them. The trick for parents is balancing their desire to protect their children and letting them develop the skills to deal with the hard stuff. As the frontal lobe matures, Jennifer explains, parents have to step back, little by little.

So what is Connected Parenting?

The Connected Parenting model is about deeply connecting with your child. Jennifer has broken it down into four main parts:

  • Connecting: throw out your own agenda (if a school project has gone unfinished, for instance), and just try and understand the situation from their point of view rather than questioning them (right at that moment).
  • Affect-matching: try and match the expression on their face so that you’re not smiling at them, for instance, when something has really bothered them, no matter how funny or cute it might be to you.
  • Listening: You can paraphrase or wonder or ask for clarity but don’t make observations. Simply use language to mirror what they’re saying.
  • Mirroring: Jennifer calls mirroring a superpower because it will immediately get your child (or anyone you have a relationship with), to soften and make them feel like they can explore the situation safely and with confidence. Mirroring has the ability to deescalate disagreements and, according to Jennifer, even teenage freak-outs.

For more on Jennifer’s Connected Parenting method, listen to the full episode of the Shaping Our World podcast at the link at the top of this post!

Visit our website to discover a variety of other guests that we’ve had on the show. Shaping Our World episodes are also available wherever you get podcasts.

Transcript

[00:00:12.010] – Speaker 1
Well. Hey, I’m Chris Tompkins, and welcome to the shaping our world podcast. My goal is to invite you into a conversation that will leave you more confident in understanding and inspiring the young people in your life. Each episode, we talk with leading experts and offer relevant resources to dive deeper into the world of our youth. Today, today we’ve invited Jennifer Kolari to join us. A child and family therapist with a busy practice based in Toronto and San Diego, Kolari is also the author of Connected Parenting: How To Raise A Great Kid and You’re Ruining My Life! (But Not Really) Surviving the Teenage Years with Connected Parenting. She’s also the host of her own podcast, “Connected Parenting”, and the co-host of the “Mental Health Comedy Podcast.” Jennifer is a frequent guest on many national morning shows and her advice can be found in many Canadian and US magazines. She entertains and educates audiences with her powerful parenting model based on the neurobiology of love. Jennifer’s wisdom, quick wit and down-to-earth style helps parents navigate modern day parenting problems, offering real life examples as well as practical and effective tools and strategies.

[00:01:32.800] – Speaker 1
Her highly entertaining, inspiring workshops are shared with warmth and humor, making her a crowd pleasing speaker with schools, medical professionals, corporations and agencies throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Jennifer, welcome.

[00:01:51.150] – Speaker 2
Thank you. Happy to be here.

[00:01:52.670] – Speaker 1
Yeah, it’s great to have you. Looking forward to this conversation. I’ve been doing some homework and looking at all the stuff you do and really excited to hear from you today.

[00:02:01.620] – Speaker 2
Great. Thank you.

[00:02:02.820] – Speaker 1
So, with every week, we kind of dive in with a couple of questions to get to know our guests. So what shaped your world when you were a teen or a child? What were some big influences in your life?

[00:02:14.010] – Speaker 2
So, let me think about that for a second. It’s interesting because I actually remember at 14 or 15 just knowing I wanted to be a therapist, to be ill, which is such a weird thing to know that, but I just knew that I came from a family of teachers, so we have a kind of long almost everyone is a teacher. I’m the black sheep of the family. So education is big. Understanding kids, helping, empathy, that was a really big part of my world, and so was nature and being traveling and camping and just having full experiences. So I’m very grateful to all of that.

[00:02:55.920] – Speaker 1
That’s awesome. And so how has some of that experience camping, nature, what’s shaping your world today? What do you do for fun? What’s the world of Jennifer and family, all that like outside of your work?

[00:03:08.560] – Speaker 2
When I’m not working, I’m camping. In fact, I’m going camping right after this interview.

[00:03:12.630] – Speaker 1
Oh, nice. That’s great. And I know this, but you’re camping in a warm area of the world right now, aren’t you?

[00:03:19.800] – Speaker 2
Yeah, I’m in San Diego right now. So we’re going to go up to the desert and do some camping stuff.

[00:03:24.530] – Speaker 1
Oh, man. Yeah. That’s awesome. So tell us a little bit about what you’re doing today, now in your life that is shaping the world of young people and families. Talk about your work and your role with kids and youth.

[00:03:38.930] – Speaker 2
Yeah. So I run an organization called Connected Parenting. We’ve got an amazing team of about eleven therapists who are trained in the connected parenting model. And we really teach parents and support parents because parenting is the hardest job you’ll ever do in a very difficult time, which I’m sure we’ll get into in this interview. But we teach parents how to use language and words and compassion and empathy as medicine, as powerful, powerful medicine to help your children grow into good humans and people who care about other people and who have good emotional literacy and strong emotional resilience.

[00:04:18.300] – Speaker 1
Yeah, that’s great. Well, we’re going to dive into that and talk a bit about your method of Connecting Parenting in a little bit. But as we get going, as you said, you kind of grew up in this world and now you do this for a career and you spend your time across the US. And Canada kind of doing this. What have you seen in parenting styles that have changed over the course of your career? And how has this impacted newer generations, kind of where kids are at today?

[00:04:47.190] – Speaker 2
Yeah, that’s a really good question because I actually have seen significant change because I’ve been doing this over 30 years, probably 30 years ago, 35 years ago, there was this shift we shifted from what was known as a parentcentered model. The kids should be seen and not heard. They should listen, they shouldn’t talk back. There’s sort of very strict expectations on children’s behavior, and there’s some very not good things about that. But actually there were some important things about that hierarchy and then it slowly kind of switched until now, I would say it’s really a childcentered model, although I really think parents are starting to figure out this isn’t quite working.

[00:05:26.910] – Speaker 1
Right.

[00:05:27.560] – Speaker 2
Yeah. So what happens is kids have so much say and so much power, and they don’t want all that. They know their kids. So the analogy that I give that I think is really helpful is I have to talk about the brain for a second. But the brain actually has a natural hierarchy frontal lobe. That’s the part of the brain that makes decisions, plans, takes perspective, mitigates, organizes, prioritizes, all that stuff inhibits. And then there’s the midbrain. That’s the part of the brain that’s in charge of safety, security. It just cares about whether you’re safe or not. It’s fight, flight, freeze, or appease. And so those two parts of the brain are often trying to be in balance. And so children don’t have a fully formed frontal lobe really in their mid 20s. So we’re not actually parents. We’re substitute frontal lobes. That’s what we are. Our job is to inhibit, organize, prioritize, help your kids take perspective. We provide prosthetically that brain function for our kids until they have a fully formed brain of their own. And that’s why parenting is so hard, right? Because what’s the job of the midbrain? To push back.

[00:06:37.520] – Speaker 2
No, I want it.

[00:06:38.810] – Speaker 1
I got to run.

[00:06:39.410] – Speaker 2
I got to get out of here, right? So it’s this constant battle. So we’re sort of acting that out on a daily basis, and that can be really challenging. So when we talk about how parenting has changed, one of the things that happened many, many years ago is kids at least knew that adults were in charge, right? They didn’t have to make decisions. There was some clarity around that, and there were some really not good things that kids were spanked in school and you didn’t question authority, and there were some things that were not very good about that, but we’ve kind of lost the hierarchy a little bit. And so what I’ve seen in the last few years is a drastic increase in anxiety, emotional regulation issues. And that would make sense because kids have a little bit more power than they’re ready to handle. So what we do at Connected Parenting is we really help parents set loving limits in this beautiful, compassionate way, but really tighten up those loving limits so kids feel safer and they want boundaries. So I’ll give you one analogy that kind of, I think, really captures it. Mike, if you were in an airplane and there was a captain, okay, and he’s in this bumpy, terrifying, turbulent fight, and he starts wandering down the aisle saying, hey, guys, what do you think we could do 28,000ft, we could do 30.

[00:07:58.250] – Speaker 2
I could try going around the storm. What would you say to him?

[00:08:01.380] – Speaker 1
Yeah, fly the plane. Crazy.

[00:08:04.230] – Speaker 2
What is wrong with you?

[00:08:05.300] – Speaker 1
Right?

[00:08:05.810] – Speaker 2
Your anxiety would go through the roof because you no longer trusted and charged.

[00:08:09.210] – Speaker 1
Right.

[00:08:09.660] – Speaker 2
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, the captain’s in there screaming, why is this red button flashing? Why isn’t the control tower answering me? They don’t pay me enough for this. Also, how are you going to feel in your seat as a passenger? Right? So we really have to think about how important it is for us as parents to create these loving limits, these solid limits that are base, that really come from a place of love and confidence, not fear. And that really leads to good mental health. So I think the long answer to that question is I think mental health issues are and were even before the pandemic and all the things that have gone on in the world the last few years, there’s been a mental health crisis, and it’s really around anxiety, depression, self harm, some really big feelings that kids don’t always know how to manage.

[00:08:59.820] – Speaker 1
Yeah, there’s so many things from that response that are floating through my head, maybe an observation that will lead into a future question and then another question. So, you know, I think as you’re talking, I love the idea of that. We are the part of the brain, the frontal lobe right, as DAREarts. But as adolescence and as we get later into adolescence that starts to develop, I think sometimes we have a hard time of stepping out of that too. Right? And when do you do that? And that’s that tension in the teen years as kids are starting to develop that, how do we navigate that? So I think that wells flow into another question, but I do have a question flowing out of that conversation. Do you think that because one of the things we’ve observed and I observe this at misclick of woods, we work with a lot of kids and hire a lot of young adults. We hear that term helicopter parents or snowplow parents or whatever. I’ve observed that DAREarts today are much more involved in the details of their kids lives than maybe when I was a kid growing up. I don’t know, my parents knew many of my teachers names at all.

[00:10:10.610] – Speaker 1
And now parents are readily emailing to get involved in homework conversations or whatever. Is there an integration there with the child first parenting and then parents being overly involved? Can you talk a little bit about that in the intersection there?

[00:10:24.950] – Speaker 2
I think that’s all part of it. And I want to say it’s not like this isn’t done from a negative thing or it’s done from love. Mike parents really get involved in their children’s lives, and they want to be part of it, and they want to be good guys. And I think we’ve just lost that balance a little bit. There’s a role for what’s called healthy adversity. Sometimes kids and we think as parents, because we’ve learned a lesson, we can just tell our kids and they’re like, because we’ve already figured it out, they don’t have to learn that hard lesson. But the truth is, kids do. We do. Humans are experiential. We need to make our own mistakes sometimes. And obviously there should be a safety net there so the kid doesn’t fall completely on their face. But you do want your child to have some experiences where they learn natural consequences from their behavior. And so if parents are constantly rushing in and constantly calling a teacher and making sure they’re invited to this and make sure they get invited to this team, there’s a couple of things that happen. And this is what’s so directly related to mental health.

[00:11:24.260] – Speaker 2
I think kids get the idea, oh, my God, my problems are so bad. It’s so serious. Look at my parents. They can’t sleep. They’re freaking out about it. This is worse than I thought, okay. Because they gauge their response based on ours, and they learn, I can’t do this by myself.

[00:11:38.900] – Speaker 1
Right.

[00:11:39.620] – Speaker 2
I need my parents to help me. I need them to step in and do this for me all the time. And from working with teenagers for so many years, I also feel that there’s this impact that it has on their sense of self, on their self esteem when too much is done for them or when they’re given credit for things they know they didn’t really earn, or they hand in a paper that really you helped them with. They feel gross about it. They do. They might not be able to articulate that, but it kind of sits in them a little bit. And I think there’s so much value. And this is where the frontal lobe conversation is so interesting because with a teenager, obviously, as that frontal lobe grows, your job as a parent is to step back little by little by little until that person is really kind of flying on their own, right? And it’s not always easy to know when to do that. And all kids are different and they develop at different stages, but it’s very difficult to how can I word this? Parents feel their kids pain so intensely, sometimes I think they feel it worse than the kid, honestly.

[00:12:42.390] – Speaker 2
And so there’s a few things that happen there. One, kids either stop talking to their parents and telling their DAREarts stuff because they now have to worry about how their parents feel on top of how they feel. And it just becomes a big thing, right? Or they really start to under function because what am I going to do this for? My mom’s chasing me around with the iPad, telling me when I have to do this and that. And she’s in charge of everything and she knows what homework I have. What am I going to worry about this for? She’s got it, right?

[00:13:08.150] – Speaker 1
Yeah.

[00:13:08.670] – Speaker 2
Dad’s got it. So they don’t develop those skills, and the brain develops based on the environment that it finds itself in, right? So kids absolutely need some healthy Adversity. They need to not make the team sometimes, right? They need to experience loss and frustration. They need to figure out those things because childhood and teenage, those teenagers are about practicing for life. So what happens when you’ve done everything for your 25 year old and they’re now on their own? They fall apart. The first time there’s any real Adversity calce. They don’t have the neurological hardware. They don’t actually have the pathways in their brain to handle it. So here’s what ends up happening. You’re pushing the problem down the road, but when something relatively minor happens, they freak out, right? I’m big on analogies, so this is the one I like to think about. Like, let’s say you have an eight or nine year old child and you’ve done everything for them. You’ve called the teacher, you made sure they were in the right class. You got them and you spoke to the gymnastics instructor and made sure this happened, and that happened. And you’ve just done everything possible to make your child happy.

[00:14:14.860] – Speaker 2
Here’s what happens now. So you give your child an ice cream. You’re having a nice ice cream. Sunday afternoon, the ice cream falls on the floor. The kid starts screaming and is in actual psychic pain. It’s very, very distraught because the ice cream fell on the ground. It is real. Why is that happening? Because the ice cream falling on the ground really is the worst thing that’s ever happened to her in her entire life. Everything else has been smoothed out. So this is what I really want parents to understand. If you don’t give your children opportunities, which is very hard to do sometimes, to develop that neurological hardware, they won’t have it later when they need it. And then smaller things become epic. Like, then you have tears and they can’t sleep, and you’re dealing with these really big emotional reactions, and you’re saying things you’re kidding. What are you talking about? It’s an ice cream. What is the matter with you? We give you everything you could possibly want. Why are you screaming about an ice cream? And then you have this big chasm between that child’s experience and what the world has actually shown them.

[00:15:17.580] – Speaker 2
So I’m really big on kind of closing that gap and finding that I call it standing in canoe. So you’ll see, nature follows through a lot of my analogies, but you’re never totally still in a canoe. You’re always trying to balance it.

[00:15:31.500] – Speaker 1
Yeah.

[00:15:32.300] – Speaker 2
Finding that center point as much as possible so that you’re guiding your child, you’re helping them have real experiences. You’re preparing them for life. You’re helping them to be empathic, caring people. Because when kids, when the focus is on the child too much and what they want and what they deserve and what they should have and what they need, they don’t always turn, at least in that moment in time, the nicest person.

[00:15:52.430] – Speaker 1
Right.

[00:15:53.560] – Speaker 2
In order to have that empathy and care for other people, they need to have a full experience of being human.

[00:15:59.420] – Speaker 1
Yeah, that’s amazing. I love that analogy or that picture of standing in a canoe because I think it really illustrates what you’re talking about and what I think so many parents, myself included, sometimes bringing out that tension between I’m trying to navigate this and when am I supposed to make decisions and help be that frontal lobe and the front part of the brain? And when am I have to step back and let it? How do you navigate that? And as you mentioned, that leads to some tension and challenges. And I think as parents, we all realize that we can’t do it all perfectly all the time. But I think the expectations, because they’re our kids and we care so much about them, are pretty high. So in your practice, what do you see? Are some of the issues that kind of flow out of this that kids and parents struggle with the most attention because sometimes the parent, you think, like, I’m the only one that’s navigating this. And so sometimes it’s just even reassuring to go like, oh, this is common. Like other parents and other people that work with kids wrestle with the same kind of things.

[00:17:02.660] – Speaker 1
What do you see kind of frequently show up as we learn to navigate the parentchild relationship?

[00:17:07.680] – Speaker 2
Well, I think probably the biggest one is kids really struggling with emotional regulation. Like really, really struggling. And then so the more you try to smooth things over and the more you try to make things easier for your kids. So when do you push, when do you protect kind of thinking? And the more you go on the protection side and doing too much and overworking and overdoing it for your kids, the less skills and the less neurological hardware they actually have to handle life. So you’ll see kids really having enormous downs and terrible struggles with anxiety. Anxiety was a big problem before the pandemic and all the things that have happened in the last year, it is worse now and parents have anxiety now. Mike so many parents wake up in the middle of the night and you get that feeling in your gut and you’re like you start worrying about your child and you start really feeling their pain. So I think it’s all happening because parents love their children so, so much and they want their children to have good lives and be happy. But I think knowing when to help your kids have real experiences, when to pull back and let them feel consequences is a big part of mental health, actually.

[00:18:19.670] – Speaker 2
And it’s not a conversation that happens a lot and there’s competing, which you see everywhere, not just in the parenting world, but you’ll see these polarized responses, right? There’s lots of conversations about you’ve got to just listen to your children and it’s all about letting them have experiences and you don’t challenge them and you don’t say no. You don’t give them time outs, and limits are cruel. And then there’s the other side, which is behavior mod and tiger mom and one, two, three, magic. And the truth is, there is value in both of those models. And if you don’t realize that being a good parent means loving limits, right. Compassion and empathy and deep connection with your kids, that’s incredible for mental health and emotional strength and for being a good human and then knowing how to say, no, I love you enough for you to be mad at me. You can be as mad at me as you want, but you are not going to that party. There is no adult there. So be mad and you’re not going. Right? I think key is really and this is where we really try to help coach our parents with.

[00:19:26.450] – Speaker 2
This is the balance. That point where you’re standing in the canoe is when you’re operating from a place of love, not fear. So as human beings, we only really have two emotions love. Everything else is fear. So anger, yelling, screaming, cheating, lying, greed, jealousy, all of that is just fear, right? So when we are when our fear of our child failing or getting hurt or whatever, not making it far enough to not mike it into the university they want or whatever it is, if we if we make all our decisions based in fear, we’re also adding that to our kids, right? So they’re walking around with that as well. So there is this place where you’re standing in the canoe where you can just say, hey, this hurts. This is so hard that you didn’t get invited to that. Come here, let me give you a hug. That’s a terrible feeling, but you know what? You will get through this. We can feel this, we can experience this, we can metabolize this, and we can move forward. And what happens when kids sometimes have big losses is the parent freaks out. Oh, my God, you know what?

[00:20:31.770] – Speaker 2
We’ll have a party for you and we’ll invite your friends over and I’ll call that mother and I’ll make sure you get there. And what ends up happening is it ends up turning into something that’s fearbased, something that the child thinks, oh God, this is worse than I thought. And maybe these big feelings are really something that I can’t manage on my own. And I think the greatest gift you can give your child is that feelings are meant to be felt, not ignored, not pushed aside. We’re terrible in this culture for actually feeling our feelings. We buy things and smoke things and drink things and blame people. We do everything we can to not feel what we’re feeling. And as parents, we have such a hard time not just feeling what we’re feeling, but watching what our children are feeling, that we have a very important job as parents to help our children learn how to feel and how to metabolize and even allie those emotions so that you can get over things and you can move forward and you can learn from it. And that’s actually where confidence comes from. Hey, I had that really experience, that terrible experience where whatever happened and I thought I was never going to get over it, and I did, and I’m really proud of myself.

[00:21:38.840] – Speaker 2
And we rob our kids of those experiences when we do too much fixing.

[00:21:43.010] – Speaker 1
Yeah, that’s really helpful, and I think you probably covered it in the response there, but can you kind of explain to us? Because I think this is where your method and your way of being a connected parent really shows up. So can you tell us a little bit about what that is and where that kind of intersects with some of the things that we’ve been talking about already?

[00:22:03.990] – Speaker 2
Yeah, of course. Wells so maybe what I’ll do is just quickly take listeners back to kind of the origin of connected parenting, where it actually came from so many, many years ago. Now it’s way over 30 years ago. When I finished my undergraduate degree in psychology. I mean, I knew I told you. I always knew I wanted to be a therapist to such a weird thing to be therapist.

[00:22:24.450] – Speaker 1
We could have a whole other side conversation on that, Jennifer later.

[00:22:27.470] – Speaker 2
Yeah, we could. Some kids like play teacher and play doctor and I was literally playing therapist.

[00:22:34.060] – Speaker 1
Tell me how you feel about this.

[00:22:36.150] – Speaker 2
Yeah, exactly. So I finished my undergraduate degree in psychology and I knew I wanted to go on and do graduate work, but I wanted to have some real experiences. So I don’t even know what possessed. I ended up looking in the back of the classifieds in the ads, where the ads were posted for jobs, and there was a job at a group home and I thought, okay, well that sounds interesting. So I applied for I didn’t really have any idea what this job was about or what it was going to be. Anyway, it was a group home for kids who were street kids. So these were kids who were basically trafficked, like child traffic. They had pimps, they had what they called Romeo pimps. They were runaways. And then they were sort of taken by these people on the street and basically put to work. And the way that these kids were helped was they had to be taken away from downtownless. Group home was way on the outskirts, I think was in tobacco or something. And it was what’s called a semi lock up facility. So the doors weren’t locked, but all their identifying information and their coats and their shoes and everything were locked up.

[00:23:46.410] – Speaker 2
And it was a very sort of secure, pretty intense and pretty military setting. And I remember even in the training mike we were taught, don’t get too close to these kids. They’ll take advantage of you, they’ll lie to you. Like you got to be really tough with them or they’ll, you know, it wells all help will break loose in the setting. So I’m listening to this, but I’m thinking none of this makes sense to me. These are children. Some of them were eleven years old. They were eleven to 16 years old. Every single one of them sexually abused. The stories, the horrifying stories that these kids have been through, the trauma, the generational trauma that these kids have been through, and this made no sense to me. And so at night it was go to bed and close the door and they’ll suck you in and take advantage and blah, blah. Anyway, none of that made sense to me. So I would actually defy that completely. And I would spend time with them at bedtime and I’d sit on their beds and I would tell them bedtime stories and I would sing them love lies and these tough, scary kids would melt into this bedtime routine.

[00:24:53.190] – Speaker 2
When the makeup came off, when the jammies came on and the teddy bears came out, they turned back into children. And these were very powerful moments for me. And what I noticed was the next day. When it was time for me to get those kids to flow through their day and do the things that they needed to do. And.

[00:25:08.280] – Speaker 1
You know.

[00:25:08.460] – Speaker 2
I was doing some of the hard parenting stuff. Brush your teeth. Get to school. All that stuff. They were much more likely to do this for me. There was an increase in what I know now is Mike healthy compliance. And the other staff were like, oh, she’s a bleeding heart. They’re going to walk all over her. This is going to backfire. She’s going to see you, blah, blah, blah. By the way, that never happened. It really didn’t. What happened was there was this deep connection. There was a nurturing, there was a connection. And because there was that connection, healthy compliance followed. Right. So there was one I’ll just tell this quickly, and then we can kind of bring it to your question about connected parenting in general, but there was this one little girl who was really wild. We’d had meetings for weeks before she came into the setting. She was quite aggressive, and she’d only been there a couple of weeks, and she particularly she wouldn’t talk about it during the day, but she really loved the bedtime routine. And she was leaving. She was heading to another setting and on the porch, just saying goodbye to her, a couple of other staff were there too.

[00:26:12.720] – Speaker 2
And I saw her walking down the sidewalk, and she went to get in the car, and she paused for a second. I could see this in slow motion. It’s so vivid, and it was so long ago. And she kind of paused for a second, and then she turned around and she came running up the sidewalk. This is like gift. Imagine this is Mike, the toughest kid who wouldn’t admit any softness about anything. She went right up to me. She put her hands on my cheeks. She looked right into my eyes, and she said, I want to remember this face, the face of someone who actually cared about me.

[00:26:42.290] – Speaker 1
Wow. Yeah.

[00:26:43.800] – Speaker 2
So that was a huge moment. And that was the moment connective parenting born was born. That moment. That’s when I said, okay, what is this? I want to know everything about this. I want to know the science behind this. I want to bring this into my work. I want this to become my life’s work and how I live as a human being. And without knowing it, that’s where connected parenting really began.

[00:27:07.040] – Speaker 1
Wow. So tell us a little bit about what it looks like and what are the underpinnings to it and where it shows up in these relationships and maybe how it helps us. Navigate.

[00:27:20.510] – Speaker 2
Okay? So in moments where we deeply connect to other human beings, where we truly understand each other, we’re not trying to win the argument, we’re not trying to change someone’s mind. We are just purely listening. We’re present some pretty incredible things happen in the brain. So in moments like that so in the moment that I just described where the child put her hands on my cheeks. Oxytocin, opiates and natural endorphins, these are reward chemicals, powerful reward chemicals in the brain flow through the body, through every cell of the body, calming the body down, helping the brain and the body to respond to the world instead of react to the world. And these reward chemicals are medicine, basically. And they deescalate and they’re incredibly powerful and they build emotional resilience. They are actually one of the number one antidotes to addiction as well. So connection is the antidote to addiction. These chemicals are free. You can’t get addicted to them. You don’t need a prescription for them, you can’t overdose on them. And when oxytocin flows, there’s a few really incredible things that happen in the body. One, cortisol is blocked. Cortisol is stress hormone. That’s what causes us to go into fightflight or fees.

[00:28:33.740] – Speaker 2
When oxytocin flows and is more present, it mitigates cortisol, which is really important. It speeds up neuroplasticity, actually makes you learn faster. You make those neural connections faster. When you have higher levels of oxytocin, it strengthens the immune system. I mean, how phenomenal is that in our world today? It makes you more resistant and resilient to disease and infection. Your immune system upgrades when you have high levels of these reward chemicals in your body. The best part is when you speak to another person this way. When you have a moment of connection like this with another person, you get the bounce back. So your brain gets all that same good stuff. It’s like a medicating effect. So connection and it’s interesting because all parents feel like they’re connected to their kids. And I can’t be more connected that I’m already connected. But when I say it, I really mean Mike in this deep kind of way where you can have these moments where you can deeply listen. And it’s coming from a place of love, not fear, where you’re not going to rush into action and try to fix anything. You’re just really present with your child or your spouse or your mother in law or whoever it is because this doesn’t just work on your kids.

[00:29:47.940] – Speaker 2
And as you learn to do this because it’s harder than it sounds, you’re really strengthening your child. You’re thickening their skin. You’re really giving them a phenomenal baseline for mental health, social health. You don’t have to teach your children how to do this. When you respond to them this way, they will begin to respond to others this way, which is really lovely. There’s just so many benefits for it and they just get stronger. The shoulders get back, the chin comes up and they can just handle stuff because they have this beautiful, strong, loving relationship with their parents and it’s harder than it sounds. So I’ve actually broken it down into I mean, there are a lot of aspects to connect to parenting, but there’s four things you’re going to do. Because we think we’re good at listening, but often we’re not so good, right? Our own fear gets into it or we start telling them what we think they should do. And we’ve all had that experience where we’ve sort of told somebody something like, wells, why don’t you just do this? And it’s like, yeah, that’s not what I wanted, that’s not what I needed in this conversation.

[00:30:50.940] – Speaker 2
So the contacting is really breaking that down into four things. So the first thing you’re going to do is you’re going to connect, you’re going to take your agenda. Are you kidding me? You haven’t started that project yet. What do you mean? How dare you? You take that and you just put it aside, you get to bring it back. You know that I’m all about limits, right? You just don’t start with that. So it’s that moment of really taking your agenda, getting it out of the situation, because in that moment, you’re really just trying to understand, not win an argument, but understand their point of view. Second thing you’re going to do is the affect matching. So this is where the look on your face needs to relatively match the look on their face. It can’t be exact because that’s weird. But if your child comes home and says, I thought Julian loved me, and really I found out she loves Josh, and they’re like five years old and you’re smiling or laughing because that’s the cutest thing you’ve ever heard, while they’re devastated, it’s not going to work. You’re not going to have that neurological match.

[00:31:45.440] – Speaker 2
Right?

[00:31:46.070] – Speaker 1
Yeah.

[00:31:46.740] – Speaker 2
So the effect has to be similar then the L. Now this is where you can choose your words. So once you’ve done those other two things, you can listen, right? You can paraphrase, we can go through an example in a second, you can summarize, you can clarify or you can wonder out loud. And when you use language in that way and you pull it all together, now you’ve had a mirroring moment. And when you do that, beautiful conversations come from this. You become the person your child wants to talk to because you’ve demonstrated such a deep art of listening. And if you’ve done it properly, you’ve left your own stuff out of it, right? So it becomes this place where your child feels really, really safe and can explore what’s going on with confidence and feel that emotional safety in that conversation, right? So what a lot of us do, we kind of think we’re doing this. I’ll say this in principle. Oh, I do that. But usually what people do is actively listening. I know you’re having a really time. I understand you’re having a really but can you hear what’s happening there? Yeah, that lit like, it feels like I’m using a technique on you.

[00:32:55.320] – Speaker 2
And we hate that when people do that to us. Right. There are no observational statements in the Calce technique. No, it sounds like it feels like you must be I understand, because the second you say that your kids are going to go now, you don’t you don’t understand it’s not happening to you. Right. So it’s a bit of an art. It sounds easier sometimes than it actually is. But even the clumsiest attempts, you will see a huge impact on your children. You will see a softening and opening up. You will, in a very short time, see them kind of internally strengthening and interestingly. You’ll deescalate you can bust a tantrum, even a teenage freak out. You can bring someone from a very high level of escalation to a state of calm in about three really good mirroring statements. It’s kind of a superpower. In fact, it’s funny. I used to go to camps. I don’t do it so much anymore. I used to go to camps all over Ontario and do staff training. I would teach the staff.

[00:33:59.450] – Speaker 1
That’s awesome. And I’ve seen that definitely in my own life, working with kids and my own house. It’s easy after a busy day and to have a dramatic episode and catch yourself. Either the long side that demonstrates like, oh, no, here we go again, or the eye roll of like, oh, really? It’s tough. It is hard. But I can definitely say when you do make those steps, that you’ve taken just the power of that. So I thought that was a really helpful and insightful thing to kind of navigate those difficult or high stress situations. We all lead really busy lives. Our kids are really busy. The connection can’t just happen in these moments of high stress or tension. Right. It’s ongoing in the ebb and flow in the small ways here and there. Do you have any tips or insights for parents on how to continue to do that so that when it comes time for those moments, there’s already some connections going on?

[00:35:05.430] – Speaker 2
Absolutely. I definitely do. And what’s interesting about that, and you’re right, is because it’s so difficult to kind of access all of these skills sometimes, especially when you’re frustrated and you’re mad and you’re like, Are you kidding me? What’s going on? Your own frontal lobe shuts off. So you end up reacting to your children instead of responding to your children. I do want to say, too, you can always go back and repair. So let’s say you tried to have a good mirroring conversation. It completely went awry. You started screaming, it just went south. You can always go back a day later, two weeks later, a month later, and go, remember the other day when I told you to go live with the neighbors if you didn’t like it here. I didn’t actually stop and think about what you were trying to tell me, and I’ve been thinking about it. So there’s a really lovely piece about this where you can go back and you can repair, and in the beginning, that’s usually where you do your best. I would say two things. One, parents often say to me, I don’t have time to do this.

[00:35:59.760] – Speaker 2
I don’t have time to do this. My answer is, you don’t have time not to, because you’re going to pay the piper one way or the other. So it does make sense to find the energy and put it into the beginning of these conversations so that they don’t go Awry and go so south. And then you feel terrible, and you wake up in the night going, that’s not who I want to be as a parent. Right. And you can always make mistakes and repair. But I also tell parents, to your point, that it’s really hard to learn this when you’re escalated. So practice the calm technique on everything, on anything. Like, your kid, I don’t know, tells you about a new video game is coming out, and instead of just blazing over and going, uh huh. Oh, that sounds cool, you’re like, really? Tell me about it. You kind of really get in there with energy and eye contact. You follow the same things. You connect. You look great at them. You look interested. You capture the urgency of the conversation, and not in a fake way, not in a patronizing way, but really, this is important to your kids.

[00:36:55.890] – Speaker 2
You probably don’t care about it at all, but it matters to them. So you want to be in that moment and say, okay, I don’t know anything about this, but you look so excited. I want to know what you love so much about this. Tell me why this game is so cool.

[00:37:07.910] – Speaker 1
Exactly.

[00:37:08.400] – Speaker 2
You can have a very short conversation that is infused with oxytocin endorphins and natural opiates. That is a chemical marvel that lasts three minutes, and your child is infused for the rest of the night with that biochemical boost. Right. And the rest of the night can go better because you took that time to have that really deep conversation. And so often as parents, especially with teenagers, we have very few moments where we can actually talk to them because their doors shut or their headphones are in or they’re running out the door or whatever. And so when we do get them, we’re like, have you done that project yet? And what do you mean there’s a new video game? Why should you have a project coming up? We kind of do that thing where we’re mike frontal loading too much, and then our kids avoid us. They’re like, oh, God, here she comes.

[00:37:59.060] – Speaker 1
Right?

[00:37:59.540] – Speaker 2
What is it now? What does dad want now? So important to make almost the majority of your interactions. The interactions where your child walks away and go, oh, that’s not good. That felt nice. I really liked talking to dad in that moment. I really liked talking to my mom there. You do have to have conversations with kids, obviously, but they’re going to go much better if you’re doing this. The other tip that I think is really helpful, this is for younger kids too, but you could adapt it for teens is there’s two things. One is what I call baby play or limit bonding. This is where you like, I don’t know, your child’s talking to you and you’re like, oh my God, you’re so cute. And you just look at them and you just, mike, oh, I love you. Want to care if you’re 13, you yuill my little baby. And you tickle them or you send them pictures when they were little or you tell them stories about when they were toddlers. And oxytocin also flows in this moment, by the way, in both of your brains. So does connection, so does that little biochemical boost.

[00:38:59.930] – Speaker 2
And you just have little moments like this that is incredibly healing. It builds connection. It’s good for you. It’s healthy for both of you. And we so often get so busy and so focused on what we need to do and what hasn’t gotten done that we forget how important that is. Now, sometimes you’re a teenager, especially, is like, oh, my God, what are you doing? Yeah, away from me. And so we sometimes want to go, you know, I hope you have a teenager one day and they reject you and you can see how it feels, but don’t do that. Just be like, you know what, you are so right, but you are still so cute to me. And then just gently walk away. Not in a half, not mad, just walk away. And I guarantee you that teenager, half an hour later, an hour later, will come hug you from behind or put their head on your shoulder. You’ll have a little moment. It will happen. And this is worth nurturing. It’s not like a plant that you stick in the window. You have to Mike water it and take care of it. And if you want that connection back and you want your children to respect and listen to you, that is earned, right?

[00:40:04.740] – Speaker 2
That really is. And so that’s one so the baby play, and especially for kids that you’re really having a hard time with, like kids who are behavioral or really giving you a tough time, I always say to parents, the child that you least feel like doing that with is the child that needs it the most, right? So that’s really, really important. That will go a long way if you do nothing else but that, you’ll see a change in your child’s behavior. And then the other is what I call adrenaline play. So this is where you’re tickling them, you’re chasing them, or playing games that have a timer or they snap or fall apart or whatever if you don’t get something, right. Mike anything that has that adrenaline kind of feeling to it can really be helpful because going back to the beginning of the conversation, remember I said we’re frontal lobes, right? So what happens a lot with our kids and our teenagers is they go to school, they get frustrated, they have a lot of stuff going on that day. They’re carrying a lot of stress and tension and whatever’s going on. They’re exhausted.

[00:41:06.180] – Speaker 2
By the end of the day. They come home and they can feel their own frontal lobe kind of going offline a little bit. So what do they do to get that frontal lobe going? Very similar to ADHD medication, they seek adrenaline. So they will bug their sibling or start a fight over something, or they’ll do something ridiculous you’ve told them a million times not to do, and then you start to get mad, and then they get a blast of adrenaline, right. Actually getting medicated based on us. And there’s two things that happen when we get angry as a parent. We’re either terrifying and the child is unscared, or in some cases traumatized or hilarious. And it’s funny to watch us get mad and then we get even more mad, right. Because it’s just so frustrating that our kid is not taking it seriously. But what happens is it’s funny. My daughter Olivia, who’s now 18, I have three kids, jacob’s, 28, Zoe’s 26, and Olivia is 18. She was about, I don’t know, eight or nine or something. I can’t remember how old. She said to me, you know what, Mummy? I love the feeling just before I get in trouble.

[00:42:13.890] – Speaker 2
She’s describing that.

[00:42:15.300] – Speaker 1
Right?

[00:42:16.590] – Speaker 2
So kids will act out sometimes to get that adrenaline boost, and then they get in trouble, and then you get mad. So what you’re doing is you’re inserting something that’s positive and fun and happy. You’re connecting at the same time they’re getting that adrenaline boost. And it’s not that you’re not going to have negative behavior, but you’ll have less, for sure.

[00:42:34.510] – Speaker 1
Those are really good, helpful things, I think. The baby play. I have a teenage daughter who both of our love languages, physical touch, so there’ll be random times where I’ll just give her a hug in the middle of the day and give her that look like I’m pretty proud to be your dad kind of thing.

[00:42:54.460] – Speaker 2
Beautiful.

[00:42:55.460] – Speaker 1
Yeah. That just continues to build, that connectedness for those times when we are having to navigate some tough conversations and situations. So I love both of those adrenaline play, is why I would think back so fondly, even though I hated it. My dad was a cop and a big strong guy, and he pinned us down and tickle us and, you know, do all that stuff and play fight as I got a little older. And that, I think, is a great example of that adrenaline play, right? Yeah. And so you think back and you’re like, oh, I hated that. But you actually really loved it, right? Like, no dad, don’t do that. I’ve got a lot of nieces who are like, oh no, look, Uncle Chris is here, he’s the chicken. Right, but that’s actually they’re saying please come and do that.

[00:43:42.320] – Speaker 2
Exactly. The funny part is sometimes the kids love it and the DAREarts hate it.

[00:43:47.480] – Speaker 1
Yeah, that’s right. Oh my God, here we go again. Another piggyback ride. Oh my goodness.

[00:43:52.190] – Speaker 2
Yeah, but it really is worth doing and you can do it as a substitute. You can really do it, really think of it as kind of a medication that helps and you don’t do it right before bed. That’s a disaster.

[00:44:04.080] – Speaker 1
Well, the dad may be stereotypical, but it was the dad that would do that right before bed. And then my wife would often look at me going, seriously?

[00:44:13.890] – Speaker 2
Yes, it’s true. Not so great to do right before bedtime, but like early evening, after school, it can be really fun. And these are just simple things that are involved in connection that can mitigate behavior in such a lovely way without it being so negative. Right.

[00:44:31.290] – Speaker 1
That’s amazing. So many helpful insights and I love that connected parenting model and idea and how it connects to that. I’d love to just ask what sort of other resources I mean, obviously people can go to your website and there’s a ton of resources there and opportunities for parents. What are some other and feel free to expound on some of yours, but what are some resources and opportunities for parents who are wanting to engage Corey, not just with their kids but in the world around them to figure out what’s going on that helpful insights and models and things like that?

[00:45:10.290] – Speaker 2
Sarah Wells. The Connectedparenting.com is a website. There’s lots of information on there and we have a number of kind of tiered resources for families. So I really want people to have access to this information because I really do believe it’s going to change the world one family at a time. If we can’t figure it out in our own families, we’re in big trouble on a grand scale. Right. I think this is really important and I also think that kids are getting kind of sassier and feistier and I think that’s a good thing. I think we need kids who are going to push paradigms and actually change some things around here. But it’s very hard for parents to learn, you know, that push and pull model, like protect model, like how do you protect them, keep their spirit and keep them functioning in the world but hang on to that beautiful part of them. So connected DAREarts, you can watch. There’s the podcast and I give a lot of information, a connected parenting podcast and I have two podcasts. There’s that one and then we have the mental health Comedy podcast, where I co host that with a comedian named Ed Krasnik and we interview well known entertainers and comedians about their mental health.

[00:46:14.060] – Speaker 2
And that’s very strategy based. The Connected Parenting podcast is also very strategy based. Takes you right through the comp technique and then tackles everything from bedtime to teenagers to teen, dating to school, homework, everything. And then we have an online course for people who can’t necessarily afford private therapy or who want that, just that, or they want to enhance what they have already. So that’s an online course where I take you through all the modules related to connected parenting. There’s two versions of that. There’s one that’s just on demand videos, which you have for life, by the way. They don’t run out because I think you’re a parent for life, so you should have the course for life. And then there’s another version where I actually interact with everyone in a closed Facebook group and do monthly coaching calls, which are really fun because there are people from all over the world. So talk about thinking that it’s not happening, it’s only happening to you. There’s people from all over the world saying the exact same thing about parenting. That’s a lot of fun. There’s. The books that Connect to parenting, how to Raise a Great Kid Book is available on Amazon, it’s available in bookstores.

[00:47:17.360] – Speaker 2
And the teen version of that book is you’re ruining my life. So there’s both books, and we also have something called The Village, where there’s at least two connected parenting team members in there. And it is a place for parents to go and talk about what’s going on in their world with their kids, get parenting advice from the connected parenting team members there and to practice the comp technique because you kind of need to practice it to get really good at it. So that’s the village. And then of course, if people want one on one therapy, then we have a whole team of therapists. There’s a number of us in Toronto. We have people all over the place and we do a lot of online work as well as in person work. So there’s that available as well.

[00:47:57.720] – Speaker 1
That’s amazing. So go to Connectedparenting.com and you will find all the resources we just talked about and a lot of opportunities for parents to grow in their knowledge and skill set and just even to be around people who get it and want to listen and embark on the journey, which is kind of what we set out to do here. And so just as we’re wrapping up, Jennifer, I just love for you. Any final thoughts, words of encouragement for parents who are working through some challenging situations with their kids at home? Kind of leave us on an encouraging, hopeful note for parents who are kind of feel like they’re in it today. And this is nice, but you don’t know the stress that I’m dealing with with my child today, what would you say to them as a way of encouragement as we wrap up our call?

[00:48:45.710] – Speaker 2
Okay. To the mamas and the dads out there. So, listen, parenting really is the hardest job. I don’t care what your job is. Parenting is harder. It really is. And I think we do have to have more conversations about what a challenge it actually is because parents don’t really talk about it or there’s a lot of fear or shame talking about it. I will tell you that when you focus on connection, when you focus on love, when you focus on love, not fear, you will see extraordinary changes, like phenomenal changes in your child. And I tell you, this is a superpower. It really is. And that pretty much however your child is in this moment. That is not who they are for the rest of time, right. How your child is at 14 is how they are at 14. That is a brain in progress. That’s a human being in progress of becoming. And we sometimes tend to think of the error, oh, my God, I’ve raised a sociopath. What’s going on? And just you have to sort of widen that lens. It does get easier. Almost everything is a phase. And if you just hang in there with love, that really is the guiding principle.

[00:49:50.990] – Speaker 2
And you will see great change in.

[00:49:52.850] – Speaker 1
Your kids that’s so hopeful and encouraging. Those who have any knowledge of the Bible and the Christina faith know that it talks about that there is no fear in love and that perfect love casts out fear. And so I love even that tension of I think so often we think the opposite of fear is courage. And a lot of people have written on that, but it actually is love. And so I love that encouragement as we wrap up for us, and I’ll take that away as well today. So thank you so much for your Jennifer. It was a pleasure talking to you and so many so many helpful insights and strategies. I’m always going to be thinking about that frontal lobe and the balancing in the canoe. So some great stuff today. Really appreciate that.

[00:50:33.920] – Speaker 2
Good. Thank you so much. It was delightful.

About the Author

Chris Tompkins leads the senior leadership team in bringing the Muskoka Woods vision to life. He holds a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Guelph, a teacher’s college degree from the University of Toronto and a Master’s degree in Youth Development from Clemson University. His experience leading in local community, school, church and camp settings has spanned over 20 years. His current role and expertise generates a demand for him to speak with teens and consult with youth leaders. Chris hosts the Muskoka Woods podcast, Shaping Our World where he speaks with youth development experts. He is an avid sports fan who enjoys an afternoon with a big cup of coffee and a good book. Chris resides in Stouffville, Ontario with his wife and daughter.
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