Raising Caring and Capable Kids: Insights from Parenting Expert Alyson Schafer

Raising Caring and Capable Kids: Insights from Parenting Expert Alyson Schafer

by Chris Tompkins | July 13, 2023

An expert on parenting with international acclaim for her books, speaking engagements and TV appearances, Alyson Schafer helps families learn how to relate to one another out of her Toronto-based clinical practice. Alyson is sought by parents for her unique approach rooted in Adlerian psychology, which gives them the confidence and know-how when it comes to raising resilient, caring and capable kids in today’s world.

On a mission to better the lives of kids

Alyson says the first step in raising kids today is continuing to move toward social equity, “not just for minority groups and women and LGBTQ, but [also] … for the rights of children.”

“I want to tell everybody to make lives better for children,” she says on the Shaping Our World podcast. “That’s my mission.”

The key to doing so, according to Alyson, is changing the standard or the “old school” parenting practices, understanding our children’s behaviour through a different lens, and understanding and empowering parents, caregivers and youth workers by giving them the tools and techniques to make those relationships better so that kids can reach their full potential.

“My kids don’t listen to me!”

Alyson says that the most common complaint she hears from parents is that their kids don’t listen to them. She cautions that this is a hangover from an outdated family model that was arranged hierarchically. Alyson explains that we have reached a “beautiful” point in modern society whereby children are recognized as social equals to adults — a time when just because someone is smaller and less developed, it doesn’t mean they warrant any less respect than an adult.

Kids are raised to be respectful and to demand respect from their peers, but at home, parents still fall into the trap of thinking their children should be obedient in exercising their will. Alyson explains that the problem arises because when children don’t listen, for instance, parents still rely on out-moded tactics like yelling and punishment, which, in her words, “doesn’t get you [to] that end goal, which is [nurturing] that resilient [self-confident] child that knows how to manage in the world.”

The three types of parents

Alyson outlines the three main types of parenting: authoritative parenting, democratic parenting and doormat parenting. She identifies that her job is to help parents become democratic parents, which means learning to walk the fine line between taking a leadership role, which entails being firm and setting boundaries, and upholding those boundaries in a friendly, relationship-driven way.

“Parents can either be really good at being friendly, but then they can’t seem to be firm, while other parents are very good at being firm, but they can’t seem to be friendly and have a relationship,” Alyson says.

And that relationship is important when trying to escape the authoritarian parenting dynamic that many of us grew up with. She uses the example of a teen not coming home for curfew and the parents getting mad because they didn’t listen to them. Alyson points out that the real change comes when your child wants to be home for curfew because they care about you and consider your feelings. She explains that you want your relationship to be strong enough that your child wants to caretake you the same way they caretake their friends.

Managerial vs. relational parenting

As a means of strengthening your relationship with your child, Alyson cautions parents against being managerial instead of relational. She uses an example of teens she sees in her practice who say that their parents don’t even know them despite spending a lot of time together. She encourages parents to be conscious of the time they spend being managerial and balancing those questions about whether they finished their homework and ate their fruit, for instance, with questions about their favourite character in the book they’re reading.

“We just don’t take an interest in our kids,” she explains. “We just want to manage them. So build up the time that you spend by truly getting to know and see, without judgement, the child that is flourishing in front of you. That’s one tip I would give as a takeaway.”

For more on what Alyson has to say about building better relationships with our kids, listen to the full episode 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

[00:00:01.780] – Speaker 1
Well, hey, everyone.

[00:00:12.700] – Speaker 2
Welcome to the Shaping Our World podcast. My name is Chris Tompkins, and I’ve been working with young people and youth for a long time now and hosting this podcast for three seasons. Every week we get into these conversations that leave me invigorated and inspired, even as a parent and I work with young people. And this week is no exception. This week on the show, we have Alyson Schafer. Alyson is an internationally acclaimed family counsellor, parenting expert, speaker, best selling author, and media personality. Armed with years of research and clinical experience, Alyson presents concepts from depth of psychology on stages around the world. Parents seek solutions, and Alyson’s forte is delivering actionable tactics that arm parents with the skills and confidence they need to face modern life challenges. Using humour and relatable storytelling, she provides a fresh and positive understanding of family dynamics. As she would say, the end goal is to raise resilient, caring, and capable kids and have fun along the way. Well, if you follow this podcast, you know that that’s what we’re really all about, helping you and us raise resilient, caring and capable kids. And as a summer camp CEO and someone who’s been part of that fun is definitely part of that.

[00:01:34.070] – Speaker 2
And I know you’ll get that from this conversation today. So without further ado, let’s listen in to our conversation with Alyson. Welcome to the show, Alyson.

[00:01:50.960] – Speaker 1
Thanks for having me on, Chris.

[00:01:52.250] – Speaker 2
Yeah, it’s great to have you. So as we always say, it’s called shaping our world, and we want to get to know a little bit more about what has and is shaping your world. So when you were growing up, what were some of the biggest influences in your life that shaped you?

[00:02:07.080] – Speaker 1
I grew up in the 70s. I’m a ’70s girl, and that’s when I was in high school. Back when we still had team spirit and pep rallies, I hung out in this student activity office, and the teachers knew me and my brothers, and we were very well liked. We were silly. I was very well liked and I went off to leadership camps and I thought I was very… I somehow socially knew how to navigate being in all the different groups. I was never in one singular clique, but I could make my way through all of them. I remember those as being really joyful years. So it’s interesting. So that really shaped me. And when I went back to the high school reunion, there was people that said, I hated high school. I’m like, Oh, I didn’t think there was anyone who hated high school. Now, of course, as a counsellor, I know there’s people that absolutely do. But it was a really fertile, growing, shaping ground for me. And I really thank those teachers who knew that I had something special and really believed in me.

[00:03:10.120] – Speaker 2
So beyond leadership, did you play sports, read into music? How did that high school experience go for you?

[00:03:16.120] – Speaker 1
Oh, I am so hip. That tells you how old I am. I was on the five pin bowling team and two choirs, and I curled. So I did all the high school. I picked the strangest things. But I sang in all the musicals, did musical theatre, as did my brothers. And I have a brother in film. I have a brother who’s an actor. And it really helped contribute to my ability to be an international speaker. I got a lot of stage practice in high school.

[00:03:46.990] – Speaker 2
Sounds like you had a rich experience in high school. And you and I probably had similar but different experiences through high school because I look back pretty fondly on those years of being involved and good friends and pretty rich experience. So tell us a little bit more about what’s shaping your world today. What do you like to do for fun? You still bowl, I guess, or curl, maybe?

[00:04:07.810] – Speaker 1
It’s so funny that you should say that I just was sending some bowling pictures because I had a friend that had a wedding at a bowling alley.

[00:04:14.040] – Speaker 2
Believe it or not.

[00:04:15.130] – Speaker 1
Oh, man. And I said, That was so much fun. I haven’t bowled in 10 years. And the person I was chatting with said, Then let’s go bowling. So I wouldn’t say I’m a regular bowler, but I do run, I play guitar, I love music still. I go to these regular jam sessions with just a bunch of old rock diehards, and I read, I really love to read. Not that I’m a workaholic, but it’s very different when you’re on a mission based journey than somebody who just works. I really like doing anything back with the community. I’m on a lot of boards and I’m on a lot of committees. I guess those fall under the realm of working, but they don’t feel like work to me. They feel like giving back and they’re very fulfilling. I speak internationally around the world and I love my international work. I stay pretty busy and I love to cook. Oh, can I tell you? Come to my house for a meal. I love to entertain. I love to feed people. W e’ve got a cottage up north, so we’re usually open door policy and bring a sleeping bag and pitch a tent and come visit.

[00:05:25.260] – Speaker 1
So very people oriented.

[00:05:27.510] – Speaker 2
That’s amazing. Those listeners e have listeners from not just the Toronto area, but Ms. Cocoa Woods and I’m based here. It’s nice to have a guest who’s based here. When you say come over for dinner, that actually could happen. That could happen. Okay. I’m probably not that far from you. I could happen. Okay. Or hour up at your cottage, or you can come by our place sometimes. I love that. Yeah, we’ll make that happen. So tell us a little bit more about the work you’re doing. You mentioned you speak internationally. What do you speak on? What’s your nine to five? I know that’s a bad way to say it, but tell us about the work that you’re doing and specifically where the world of young people and teens and children and all that stuff weaves into that. I have.

[00:06:12.270] – Speaker 1
A bit of a unique story that brought me to my work, which is I’m the third generation in my family to teach and train and work around something called a Lyrian psychology, which we can get into a little bit deeper. But it meant that I was raised by parent educators. They had other jobs. My mom was a teacher, my dad worked at the university, but they were very involved in bringing Adlerian psychology and training, family education, parent education to Ontario. I was raised with my parents giving parent education classes in the living room and going to conferences. We were off in the demonstration family. I didn’t know what any of that was about. It’s your life. You just think everyone does that. When I grew up and had a science degree and was working in nonprofits or whatever, but then I became a mother. When I became a mother, I was like, How did my parents raise me? What was all that stuff? I had to do a deep dive to discover the brilliance of what my parents had done and start learning about Adlerian psychology myself. I went back, got a Masters, and so I’m on this mission to share with the world about how families and I would say all relationships, work, marriages, how we can learn to get along with one another in a respectful way.

[00:07:27.680] – Speaker 1
That sounds like such a simple mission, but it’s really about a movement toward social equality, not just for minority groups and women and LGBTQ, but particularly for me, the rights of children that we change our parenting practices and of course, you’ve got other adults working with kids, youth workers and counsellors, people working with children to understand them in a different way through a different lens. It’s one of those things like, if you discovered the cure for childhood cancer, you wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. You’d want to be telling everybody. I want to tell everybody to make lives better for children. That’s my mission, which is changing the standard or the old school parenting practices, understanding children’s behavior through a different lens and understanding and empowering those adults with the tools and techniques to make those relationships better so that kids can really reach their potential, be resilient, be contributing, all those wonderful attributes that we want to see in our kids.

[00:08:31.640] – Speaker 2
That’s amazing. I think you’ve totally piqued the curiosity of listeners. For me, I’m like, Okay, I want to talk more about that. What you just explained, what you do is really the heart behind why we even started this podcast and are having these conversations is to relook at where kids are at today and how to provide assistance and support and love and to help young people really learn how to thrive.

[00:08:56.070] – Speaker 1
For parents listening, I just want them to really know we’re doing better at parenting than we ever have. That’s good. I think we forget that back in the middle ages, if your kid was misbehaving, you would have taken a nail and you would have taken a hammer and pinned their ear to a post in the town square to set them up as an example. Then when they finally got hungry enough after days, they would build up enough courage to rip their ear lobe off to go home to eat. We don’t do that anymore.

[00:09:28.080] – Speaker 2
Thank goodness.

[00:09:29.470] – Speaker 1
This is not recommended. Now, sadly, spanking is still legal in Canada, whereas most of the other democratized modern countries have abolished spanking. That still appalls me. But we come from a tradition, if we go back far enough where kids were chattels, they were considered really… You got to remember, there was such high infant mortality rate that parents were told not to love their children because they’re probably going to die. You had 13 kids and maybe five of them made it past the age of six. They didn’t know that love and environment and parenting mattered, and kids were largely a free source of labor on the farm. We’ve really moved, if you look at it from a historic point of view, through to kids should be seen but not heard, to now, we’re in a new era where we really understand that children have their most important developmental years and probably the first five years of life that are our relationships and environment and parenting really matter. Now, we’re largely in urban society that we just task kids with being smart. Now, they’re not free labor. They’re just an inert tumor on the family told to be smart, and parents get their knickers in a knot if their kids don’t study hard enough.

[00:10:48.150] – Speaker 1
So the whole climate of family life and parenting shifts with time. So we have some new problems cropping up in this era.

[00:10:56.060] – Speaker 2
So let’s dive into that a little bit. So when you were talking there, I’m like, okay, some of that stuff feels and seems obvious to us as far as parenting methods and techniques. But in Honey I Rect the Kid, you talk about the fact that kids are resistant to traditional parenting methods. Can you talk a little bit about that? Sure. And what are you seeing? W hat’s changing today beyond the obvious where we’ve all realized that maybe nailing an ear lobe to the most is probably not going to help us.

[00:11:27.790] – Speaker 1
I think what’s happening is we’ve been successful and we don’t know what to do with it. What I mean by that is we’ve all learned that we want to treat our kids with respect. Many parents will say, Hands are for hugging, not for hitting. We do all these things that are really respectful. Our kids grow up, as they should, developing a belief that they should be treated with respect and dignity. They should be treated with respect and dignity. We’ve reached this beautiful a beautiful point in society where our children have become our social equals. I want to be really clear, this is a confusing point for parents. I don’t mean that they have the equal rights to a parent. I don’t sit a six year old down and say you’re part of the family, the mortgage is up for renewal, should we go for a fixed rate or variable? That’s ridiculous. I’m not talking about that. But what I mean is that the mere fact that you are smaller and less developed doesn’t mean that I have the right to scream at you, abuse you, demean you. You’re a human being. You deserve to be treated with respect from the minute you were born, regardless of your age and developmental stage.

[00:12:38.150] – Speaker 1
So kids now realize I need to be treated with respect. So the problem happens when a parent who doesn’t have a lot of tools in their toolbox because they’ve inherited the generational style of parenting from their parents, that they still have this underlying belief that our children should listen to us. That’s probably my biggest complaint. They don’t listen. If they would just listen. My kids don’t listen to me. There’s these blind spots where parents don’t realize that they’re still trying to organize families hierarchically, and they still want to have an obedient child who just minds the parents will. Then parents get really upset when that doesn’t play out. When their backs are up against the wall, they go back to some classic parenting things, which is punishment and yelling and nag and we’re doing for and rescuing. N one of these things are helpful in child development. It might get you through the day, but it doesn’t get you that end goal, which is that resilient child that knows how to manage in the world, that’s contributing and resilient, has high self esteem. So we’re trying to close that gap.

[00:13:40.000] – Speaker 2
So if I’m a parent and I’m listening to that, I’ll play the other side of that a little bit and go, I hear what you’re saying. I don’t want my kids to be in danger or risk. And sometimes we understand consequence, or there’s a bit of a healthy fear in, I don’t want to screw up or make that mistake. Speed limits, you don’t want to get a ticket. So talk to me a little bit about that tension. Do you know what I’m saying? I know a lot of parents would bring that back and go, Yeah, I don’t want to yell and scream at my kid. But where does healthy fear play into? I don’t want to make a bad decision, or I don’t want my kids to go off and hop in a car with a stranger or something.

[00:14:20.360] – Speaker 1
Right. So it is a common misconception when I am describing this style of parenting, which is called democratic or authoritative parenting. There’s three parenting styles. One is the iron fist, the other one is this democratic that I’m discussing. But a lot of people will confuse it with that more permissive doormat parenting. It’s not doormat parenting.

[00:14:41.480] – Speaker 2
Okay, so tell us, go into democratic parenting then.

[00:14:44.450] – Speaker 1
Democratic parenting is holding, to your point, this tension because it’s a hard line to walk for parents, and it’s why I love what I do because I help them walk it. It’s trying to find that balance between you needing to be in a leadership role and be firm and setting limits and boundaries. Kids need limits and boundaries. Boundaries that helps them thrive. They actually like it. If you don’t have limits and boundaries, they find it chaotic. That causes other mental health problems. But enforcing them and creating those limits and boundaries in a way that is relationship driven, firm and friendly simultaneously. Parents can either be really good at being friendly, but then they can’t seem to be firm, or other parents are very good at being firm, but they can’t seem to be friendly and have a relationship. So it’s this blend of holding both of those qualities at the same time. And to your point, always overlaying that with a developmental piece, because how I’m firm and friendly with a four year old about getting in a car seating the car is going to be a different approach than a 17 year old that is not wearing a helmet and going on a motorcycle or going to a party and I don’t want them to do drugs.

[00:15:45.740] – Speaker 1
So there’s different applications of the same concept based on the child’s developmental stage.

[00:15:53.130] – Speaker 2
Yeah, that’s really good. And that is helpful. I love that friendly and firm. How do you hold those intention? I give you an.

[00:16:00.210] – Speaker 1
Example, Chris, just so that people can see how this works? Because I know that a lot of people listening probably have adolescents, and I work with all ages, but obviously, things can get pretty heated in the family. I have a private family practice and I have a lot of teens and their parents in my practice. So a common complaint would be something as simple as, They didn’t come home at curfew, or They don’t return my text messages. Something like that. So you say, How can I make them? How can I make them return my text messages? How can I make them come in at curfew? And the truth is, you can’t. Do you hear that? Make them is part of the power dynamic. It’s part of the I want them to do what I want when they want it.

[00:16:43.720] – Speaker 2
They need to bend to my will. Right.

[00:16:46.370] – Speaker 1
And so the question becomes, how do you make them want to?

[00:16:49.550] – Speaker 2
How do you.

[00:16:50.100] – Speaker 1
Make them want to come home because they love you enough that they go, My mom can’t sleep until she knows I’m home, and I really love my mom, and she’s really distressed right now. And because I love her, I want to caretake her the same way I want to caretake my friends. So I think I better go home because I have such a good relationship that I don’t want it to perish by making her upset. So the power of the relationship is part of what motivates kids to want to get along with you. You can’t make them, but you can make them want to get along with you. And that’s the power of the relationship in the adolescent years. And of course, sure, we can talk about consequences, but I don’t want a kid to come home because they’re worried that I’m going to call the police. I want a kid to come home because they actually see that it was a reasonable limit, that they understand where I’m coming from, and that they want to caretake our relationship as well. And that feels really weak to a lot of parents. But in fact, in the adolescent years, when you say, like, why didn’t you drink at that party?

[00:17:46.270] – Speaker 1
They’ll say, I didn’t want to disappoint my parents. If the relationship is strong, then your values are likely going to be… They’ll kick them around for a while. They absolutely will. But they tend to roost their closer to your values, if you be supportive while they make some stupid, boneheaded decisions like teenagers will, they come around.

[00:18:10.180] – Speaker 2
I think most parents listening would go, Man, ideal scenario is when a child is choosing the things that I would love them to choose and relationship is the driver. How do we develop those relationships to get to that point? Because there’s this everyday relational stuff that’s the currency that this stuff is all built on. So give us some tips and ideas around that.

[00:18:35.560] – Speaker 1
Yeah. So I would just challenge every parent listening to say, how much of the time that you interact with your adolescent are you actually being relational or managerial? If you’re being managerial, you’re like, Have you done your homework? Have you cleaned your room? Did you eat a fruit today? Most of the interactions that we have with our kids are managerial, and it’s really a shame and they’re tired of it. They’re really tired of it. Teens will come to me and say, My parents don’t know me. We spent all this time, but we’re not like, Why do you… Tell me about the book you’re reading right now. Who’s your favorite character? Why do you like them? That’s so fascinating. I want to read that book too, just because I don’t really like science fiction, but I really want to know what interests you. We just don’t take an interest in our kids. We just want to manage them. So part of learning to build up the time that you spend truly getting to know and see without judgment the child that is flourishing in front of you. That’s one tip I would give as a take away.

[00:19:33.930] – Speaker 1
And the second thing is, of course, we have to be somewhat managerial, but we need to do it in a way that, and this is really important for parents to hear, we need it to be very structured. This is what I mean about the limits and boundaries. So again, I’ll give you just a couple of examples. Parents will not put their child on an allowance, so their kids will have to come to them and say, Can I buy this shirt? Can I buy… Will you give me money for Starbucks? So it’s like the child has to grovel to the parent, and then the parent can say yes or no, and they think it’s reasonable because they’re like, I just gave you five bucks for Starbucks yesterday. No, you can’t have another one. But to the child, it just means that they’re a puppet on their parent’s string, and one day you say yes, and one day you say no, and one day you’ll pick me up from school, and the next day you won’t. And it’s so erratic that it feels very much like the parent is ruling the roost and the child is dangling like a puppet on their strings.

[00:20:26.690] – Speaker 1
So you’re much better to say, Let’s put you on a budget so that we have a one and done conversation about how much I’m willing to spend on your outside of the family food. Let’s talk about when I am and I’m not able to pick you up from school so that it’s not you feeling like you’re at my mercy of my momentary decision. Let’s make an agreement. I don’t like rule, but agreement about that. If I’m free and I don’t have a meeting and I’m passing by, then I can do it. But if I can’t and it’s an inconvenience, then you’ll need to take the bus. Something they understand as opposed to feeling like they have to negotiate with their parents every time. So it’s the erraticness, it’s the unpredictability that always makes kids feel like, why now? Why me? And they hate it.

[00:21:14.330] – Speaker 2
Yeah, yeah. I can hear either from my own childhood or as a parent that like, wait, why now is this like this? Or last time it wasn’t. And I think consistency.

[00:21:28.820] – Speaker 1
Getting really clear in roles and responsibilities. So for example, right now, just give it again, more examples from my practice, I have a lot of parents that are really angry at their teens because they’re giving them lip or attitude, and so now they don’t want to pay for their prom dress. Why should I turn around and spend all this money on prom when all you do is give me attitude and you never clean your room? Those things are completely unrelated. It’s your job as a parent to make X amount of budget for prom, whether your kid is kind to you or not. That’s just a parental responsibility. So they shouldn’t be contingent. And if we look at why is the kid giving attitude and tone to the parent, I would say you have to realize that underneath that is a kid in pain. I’ve never met a teenager that I didn’t like. Once I got to understand them. That pain, it’s like if you grab a dog and it nips at you and you realize, Oh, it’s because the dog has an abscessed tooth. We have a lot of teens that are in pain in their relationship with their parents, and it comes out as being uncooperative, mean, surly, rude, disrespectful.

[00:22:33.190] – Speaker 1
That’s an invitation to look under the hood and say, what’s underneath the tip of that iceberg that that child is in pain in the relationship as opposed to punishing them further for their attitude. Now I’m going to take away their phone, take away their prom dress. They’re just getting angrier and angrier. You’re missing solving the actual problem. That’s where counseling and parent education comes in as a really important solution to understanding what’s happening in that dynamic and not just chalking it up to teens are mean. They’re not. You can’t actually have the teen years be fun.

[00:23:08.680] – Speaker 2
I think you raise a really good point, too, with kids limping off or snapping back, and that there’s maybe something below the surface of pain, even around the relationship. There’s also some times where they’re struggling because we all know sometimes we take out our frustrations on people around us that are just innocent bystanders. And I’ve also learned to slow down and pay attention when the mood has changed a bit that there might be other stuff going on in my daughter’s life that I don’t know about.

[00:23:39.870] – Speaker 1
Right. They just got a text message from a friend finding out that in the group chat, they are invited to the party tomorrow, and then you come in and say, hey, and they go like, what?

[00:23:48.830] – Speaker 2
Yeah, totally. Or why are you on your phone when you’re supposed to be doing… And you get a snap back or whatever. And yeah, I think that’s good. So you opened the door for my next question about about family education and counseling. And you mentioned when we were talking earlier about your background with Adler Coaching and you’re an Adlerian. Did I say that right?

[00:24:15.550] – Speaker 1
Yes, thank you. I’m Adlerian based on the work of Alfred Adler, and he was the contemporary of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Everyone knows the other two great minds. But he really was the father of positive psychology, that holistic family systems, building on strengths. A lot of names that would have been more recognized, like he trained Abraham Maslow and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He had conversations with Maria Montessori, and they were very much aligned around kids and how classrooms should look. So he doesn’t have brand recognition, but arguably, the New York Times wrote a column on him on the 100th anniversary of his passing, and they said he was the most influential thinker in psychological terms that gets the least recognition. And he was fine with that. He wasn’t about ego. He wasn’t about, you need to know my name. He was about each one, teach one, let’s get these good ideas out to the world. So eah, it’s very much about social equality in human relationships. He was a persecuted Jew during the war, so he spent a lot of time talking about how do we learn to get along when we have different religions, different ideologies, different cultures, classes, and how do we make the world a fairer place and get along?

[00:25:32.810] – Speaker 1
So it’s a small question, but listen, do you not think it’s as topical today as it was back then? We clearly haven’t solved the problem yet.

[00:25:39.780] – Speaker 2
For sure. I wonder if you gave us a good brief intro to that. Is there a bit more of a crash course on how his work and what you’re doing applies to kids and parenting?

[00:25:53.670] – Speaker 1
He was also influenced by Darwin, so he’s a bit of a social psychologist and evolutionist nice a person. And he said, First and foremost, human beings are social creatures, just the same way that ants live in a colony and birds flock together and bees in a hive, we’re a collective species social grouping. We’re a collective social grouping, and so we’re wired to get along. We’re wired for cooperation. T hat’s sometimes hard for parents to believe. But anyways, we’re wired for cooperation. Babies are born and they’re trying to find their place in the group from a very young age. Who am I? How do I belong? How do I fit in? How do I find my place of importance? The family is that first early experience of life and we have to help our children move from help them solve that dilemma. Who am I? He looks at family structure, birth order, family constellation, family values, what the other siblings are doing. What he’s trying to do is to socialize that child, all of us have to socialize our their children to learn how to get along in a group. And this is where North American culture really went off the rails because we’re very individualistic.

[00:27:10.070] – Speaker 1
We don’t think like a group. We don’t think as a collective. And so we have a lot of competitive kids that are me, mine, my way. And then they fail at relationships, which makes them have mental health issues. So he really provides a child guidance system that encourages kids to learn learn how to get along. Small things like not interrupting when someone else is talking. It’s one of the first things that I ask, do your kids interrupt? Getting up and down from the table helps me learn whether or not a parent knows how to set a limit or boundary. Because it’s not that we’re being make them be obedient. What we’re doing is we’re saying in our culture, we come to the table, we use cutlery, when we’re done, we get down. That means that when you go off to somebody’s birthday party or go out on a date with somebody in 15 years, you’re going to know how to behave and then you’re going to be socially successful. When we fail to train kids, nobody wants to hang around with them because they’re the kid that’s jumping around and not following the rules. T hen they have a harder time making friends and that doesn’t set them up for social success.

[00:28:14.850] – Speaker 1
There’s a lot of training around getting along with others, about being independent instead of leaning on parents. Then I think a really important piece here that’s a distinguishing feature is that behavior is goal directed. When I’m teaching about misbehavior, it’s really about understanding what the child is trying to accomplish and how they have found a way to achieve their goal, but just through negative ways. If you said, Mommy, will you play with me? Mommy, will you help me? M ummy is too busy on her phone, could be dad, but you learn that if I go over and pull the cat’s tail, mom will put her phone down and come over and give me a little lecture about leave the cat alone. Kids just learn, Oh, I guess if I want to get her attention, I better misbehave have. We inadvertently train kids to do things because they’re effective. They don’t think of it as good or bad. It works or it doesn’t. And so learning through the lens of the purposefulness or the usefulness of behavior is really important. And that’s the same, I do this with adults too. What’s the usefulness of a parent lecturing and nag their kid?

[00:29:23.610] – Speaker 1
Do they have a need for superiority? Do they have a need for their house to look just so? Do they have a need for control? The usefulness of behavior is a big piece in Adlerian psychology that you might not see so much in some of the other democratic models.

[00:29:37.490] – Speaker 2
As you’re going, I’m thinking about all these things, like motivations behind, like, why do we have… Yeah, it’s really insightful. When you’re dealing in your practice with parents and kids, what are the main issues, topics? What are the things that you’re really wrestling through with them?

[00:29:58.170] – Speaker 1
Great question. It’s funny, I just thinking about that how they fall. Every family is different. Every person is different. I try to be as individual in my counseling approaches as possible. But as I go through my files, pulling my files of who I’m going to see today, and I’m saying like, Oh, this issue, that issue, this issue, that issue, they do fall into some buckets. You’re quite right. You’re quite right. I have certainly a grouping of kids that are discouraged, to your point, guraged. And because they’re discouraged, they’re not moving on. One of the ways that when we get discouraged, we get stuck, we stand still. It could look like anxiety, but a lot of it could be school refusal, isolation in their room, a lot of time gaming. And these are people that are discouraged because I can’t move forward because I’m too afraid of failure, I’m too afraid of my parents criticism, or my brother is so successful, I could never keep up with him. So there’s a lot of that that shows up in a whole bunch of different ways. It can show up as depression, it can show up as cutting.

[00:31:04.300] – Speaker 1
But in Adlerian terms, we talk about it as a discouraged child who has lost the courage to be imperfect. I have to work with the parents to be more encouraging. They don’t need to be pushed harder. They need to be given the freedom that right now, as they are, everything is fine. From that true embedded belief, they’ll start moving forward. I certainly have quite a lot of kids that are quite violent. I’m sorry to say that out loud, but the parents that are listening, thank God she said it. I have a lot of explosive teens where they’re just not going to take it. That if they don’t get their way, they will break a mirror, they will throw stuff around, they will steal their parents charger for their laptop so that they can’t get on their Zoom call. Kids run away from home. They can really let you know when they’re in a pain place, and they really feel that their parents don’t love them. And in fact, the parents do love them. But it’s like, I’ll love you when you start treating me well. And the kid’s saying, Well, I’ll treat you well when you start loving me.

[00:32:09.440] – Speaker 1
And then the thing is, who’s going to change first?

[00:32:11.710] – Speaker 2
A vicious cycle.

[00:32:13.070] – Speaker 1
And once you’ve got the belief that no one likes me and I’m not lovable, it’s the internal belief system that’s got self limiting beliefs and the parent has a self limiting belief they’re never going to change, they’re always going to be like this. So we get into these grid locks. And then a lot of it is around school performance. I hate to say it like this, we just don’t see kids as full human beings. We just see them as somebody who needs to be scholarly and that so long as you do… I will get my A plus on my parenting report card if you do these things. Now you’re looking bad on me because you’re not getting A pluses and you’re skipping classes and you’re not trying hard enough on the hockey. Believe it or not, people that come just strictly for not trying hard enough in hockey. What a Canadian world we.

[00:33:01.480] – Speaker 2
Live in. I was going to say that’s a Canadian context for those of you who are listening outside. Insert insert any other sport that’s really significant.

[00:33:09.190] – Speaker 1
But it’s about high… I have a lot of high performance families that have very high expectations for their kids, and they have no idea how much pressure that puts on our kids, first of all, and how much they really want to just be with their peers and be accepted by peers. So when they skip off class to go hang with their girlfriends at Tim Horton’s and the parents forget and they go, Oh yeah, I skipped off all the time, but my child won’t. They forget what it’s like to be a teenager. Just to share, here I am with my best selling books and international speaking and TV show and podcast and all the great things. But when I was 17, I left home. I had a great family. I had no fights with my family, but I fell in love with a boy and he was five years older than me. I moved out of my house at 17 when I was still in grade 13 and I moved in with my boyfriend and my parents were like, No, this is the worst mistake of your life. And we ran a nightclub together. I’m sure if you take the short narrative, you can see where parental fear would kick in.

[00:34:15.160] – Speaker 1
But the truth is, I did put myself through high school. I did put myself through university. I got a science degree. I married the man. We were married for 30 years. It turned out great. If we take the long run, teens are going to do immature things, they’re going to make mistakes, but we need to show them that we love them no matter what and that they can recover from their mistakes. And maybe they’re not mistakes. Maybe they’re more of that in a bag of chips than we give them credit for.

[00:34:40.010] – Speaker 2
I love that. I often find myself talking about it as running a marathon. And it’s hard to inject any moment… Well, you’re a runner and anyone who runs knows if you take a quick snapshot of a 10 to 15 second window in that and try to evaluate the whole race, it’s pretty hard to do. It’s a cumulative effect on that. Sometimes you just need to take a slow mile or a kilometer and take a deep breath and keep moving forward and know where you’re headed. I do know one of the topics that’s really significant and probably the biggest one that has changed over the course of parenting comes around technology. You’ve spoken about kids and technology. It’s a hot button topic for so many parents, different ideas and approaches to that. Can you talk a little bit about your approach when it comes to technology with kids? I know it’s probably different at different ages, but how can we… I find myself professionally and parenting as well, having conversations about like, this is the world they live in. Simply not having technology is not really the answer right now. And so we need to help empower kids to learn how to use it well.

[00:36:02.920] – Speaker 2
And so how do we take advantage of the virtue but also mitigate the vulnerability of things like social media? I saw today in the news, I can’t remember who said it, so I’m going to get it totally wrong, but someone came out and said that social media… It was like the surgeon general or something like that in.

[00:36:23.030] – Speaker 1
The US. You’re right.

[00:36:24.360] – Speaker 2
Yeah. Is that what it was?

[00:36:26.130] – Speaker 1
Yeah. Basically saying detrimental to children’s mental health.

[00:36:30.630] – Speaker 2
A hundred %. Yeah. And like bold in the news. Okay, so we see that as a parent, we also know our kids and us are often heads in the phones and all that. How do you approach that topic? What advice or tips or things can you help parents with as they navigate this new, really, world that’s unfolding?

[00:36:50.470] – Speaker 1
Well, it is. And that was part of a lot of people say you’re just doing one big experiment on my children, and I don’t appreciate it. Nobody knows we haven’t done enough research. It’s going so fast. So what I would say, here’s my approach. First thing is, I agree, it’s here to stay, so let’s deal with it. I don’t think that we can go to the all or nothing. No kid of mine is ever having a phone. That’s not setting them up. Parenting is about preparing your children for the life in which they have to live in, so we need to start preparing them. It’s about education. The education that we need our kids, especially when they’re teens, you have to remember, they’re very smart. They want to be known for how smart they are. So they want to be on the right side of authority. And so if you get them to, for example, if you say, explaining something like spam, where they’re like, look at this email where it’s like, you’ve inherited money from the king of some African country. And if you just put in your bank number, we’ll send you that money now.

[00:37:53.350] – Speaker 1
And they’re like, ha, do they think I’m stupid? And so you can use a big example like that and say, well, what are other ways that these big companies that are interested in your eyeballs and following money and attention is the new economy? How do they do it? How do they keep you hooked? Oh, auto start the next YouTube Reel. Oh, those guys are clever. And if you can get them to be like, oh, they’re not going to get me on that. If you can see that it is persuasion, buy one, get one free, or $2.99 feels so much cheaper than three dollars. If you can teach them about the art of persuasion, that they are the recipient of that persuasion, that those algorithms are out to get them, then they’re like, I’m going to outsmart authority. They love outsmart in authority. They want to be smart. They want to be keen. They want to be ahead of the game. That’s why they love video games. They want to crack the code, figure it out. So use those metaphors to help them realize how social media wants girls to have the thigh gap. It artificially promotes the idea that everybody’s having a vacation in Cancun or whatever.

[00:39:08.670] – Speaker 1
So it’s a lot about that education about manipulation algorithms, false FOMO. It’s smoke and mirrors. It’s not really how life is. Bring them into the conversation that way. Then reflecting back, how did you feel? It’s funny because you’re on your phone for two hours, but now I’m looking at you and you’re tensed, you’re upset, you didn’t like how the conversation went or whatever. Oh, and look at that. We went for a family bike ride and you left your phone at home and now you look all energetic and happy and plugged in. That’s so interesting. Just reflecting back how things make you feel in any moment and putting that decision to say, you have options. We can turn off notifications, we can block that person, we can decide to only use it so many hours a day or whatever it is, so that we’re going at it collaboratively and with education and being sympathetic and compassionate. I’ve got a whole Kids in Tech workshop coming up. Just some of the little key notes about generally how a democratic parent would go at it.

[00:40:12.420] – Speaker 2
That all cycles back to where we started about what it means to respect kids as well. And so you’re even helping us frame to say, kids are really smart. Like, learning how to respect them for who they are and engaging in a world, quite frankly, that they in a lot of ways know more about than we do.

[00:40:33.700] – Speaker 1
So true. And again, if you talk to kids about tech and they’ll say, well, you were being cyber bullied. Why didn’t you tell your parents? They’ll say, I was afraid they were going to take away my technology. Right. Yeah. Right? So how can we be helpers to our kids if the relationship isn’t there? Or you find out who are these kids that get into sex torsion situations and you realize these are kids who… Well, my parents neglected me and ignored me, but this guy said he was going to buy me clothes and he was going to buy me clothes. And he was going to take me out. He said I was important and he said I was important. And he said I was special. And I don’t hear that at home. So there is a lot about the power of a relationship that keeps our kids safe online. And maybe they do get bullied, but then they say, Yeah, you know what? That’s just a bunch of catty girls. But if you’ve got low self esteem because your parents have been punitive and critical, you’re going to take that to heart in a different way.

[00:41:17.780] – Speaker 1
So we have a lot to do in our parenting, even though it might not be just around having a tech policy or screen limits. It goes so beyond that.

[00:41:28.880] – Speaker 2
Yeah. And it’s just one more way that we can do this thing together, right? And navigate the world for us as parents, for kids getting through it, like co participants in helping them thrive. You host a podcast, you’ve written books. I’m sure there’s probably some workshops or things that you could provide to teachers or people who are listening. Point us in the direction where we can get any other resources or places that parents are like, I want to learn more about maybe Adlerian family systems or counseling. How can we find out more? Sure.

[00:42:08.030] – Speaker 1
Thank you for the opportunity to do that. I want parents to know, first of all, yes, I’ve written books and I have a blog and a podcast. So if you’re just wanting to jump in and get more information, I would send people to my website, allison shaffer. Com, because everything is archived there or all the links to all my social media, my workshops, everything is housed on my website. So I would say go dig in there. There’s a lot of free resources and information about what I’m doing, where I’m going, where to plug in with me. So definitely go check out my website. Beyond that, I would say, if you are somebody who is in the workplace, I’m doing a lot of workplace wellness. So I’ll come do a lunch and learn. There’s the Deloitte dads, the Amex parents group, OMERS has a parent group. There’s a lot of people getting workplace wellness. It’s actually covered by their employer and I love doing those so put my name forward for that. Then there’s also this digging into it deeper. We’ve just created this new resource called the Daily Adler. It’s modeled after the daily stoic so it’s like a little tidbit of Adlerian psychology to motivate you in your inbox every day.

[00:43:21.660] – Speaker 1
Short, less than 500 words. Then there’s also a companion, The Daily Adler podcast, which is again, two, three minutes long. But it’s these little digestible pieces that keep you motivated and get you learning about the psychology. It’s meant to be for people that are coming at it with fresh eyes, just parents. It’s not meant for counsellors and people because it’s a robust psychology that takes a long time to learn. It’s just little titrations for the general public to support them on their journey. We have a conference coming up in Denver, Colorado. There’s the North American Association of Adlerian Psychology. There’s the Ontario Adlerian Group that has regular conferences. We have lots of regular meetings, lots of resources. Anyone who’s interested, they can reach out to me personally through my website and say what they’d like to learn more. There’s a university I’m going to an international summer school where people come with their families. There’s so many resources. So if people want to get into this deeply, I will help guide their hand and show them.

[00:44:24.530] – Speaker 2
That’s great. I would highly recommend going. I was on there earlier today and their man, the stuff that you’re doing, appreciate the work that you’re doing and the help that you’re providing to so many families. Thank you so much, Alyson. And I loved how you even started this conversation today where you’re encouraging parents to say, hey, we’re doing way better at this than we have. So maybe just a final sentence or thought or encouragement for parents who are listening right now, who are walking through some tough navigation of situations or behaviors, or they just feel overwhelmed today, maybe wrap us up with just an encouragement for them.

[00:45:07.690] – Speaker 1
Yeah, I would say that… This is quoting my brother, our kids turn out fine despite us, not because of us. And the truth is, the kids are going to be okay. And that we’ve made a job description for ourselves that is probably bigger than required. Take it easy on yourself as a parent. Things are going to be okay. They’re really going to be okay. A lot of it is about letting go, having trust and faith, and not being so hard on ourselves as being not good enough parents. Have a big heart, be good to yourself. That’s really the big take away.

[00:45:55.500] – Speaker 2
Well, I hope that lands really well on our listeners who really need to hear today because it’s true. I really appreciate your perspective and your encouragement and the work you do. Thanks, Alyson, for the conversation today. It was so good and invigorating and really appreciate the time you gave us.

[00:46:13.930] – Speaker 1
Thank you for having me on and giving me a platform to your audience to put out some seeds that maybe they’ll want to go investigate that there is a whole robust psychology to support them in this journey. And we’d love to have more people follow along with us, for sure.

[00:46:29.780] – Speaker 2
Great. Well, thanks again. Have a great day.

[00:46:32.510] – Speaker 1
You too, Chris.

About the Author

Chris Tompkins is the CEO of Muskoka Woods. 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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