Thanks Salt Magazine for the feature here. I've been thinking a lot about the power of words and the stories that shape our experiences of pretty much everything. We live by our stories. Seriously. During this time of COVID19, when narratives of panic and despair and world-ending fear are shaping our every day reality, it's hard to think of another story. I love this saying by a Lakota Elder: "Everything. Everything is Story." I can make the narrative a hopeless one, or a hopeful one. I can write my own life as a series of disasters and failures, or as a series of resilient overcomings: I have lost, continents, houses, people I've loved. I have made decisions I wish I could unmake because other options in retrospect would have been so much better... etcetera. That's the one story. The other one is: I'm alive. I live. I breathe. I've also gained so much insight, gained friends, new people, found a place to call home, written books, found a job I believe in. So sure, there's no power to change what happened, to recoup the losses, but the past is a story I tell myself, and the future in fact, is a hazy dream that never comes. There's only today. Hopes and dreams may never transpire. But today, I'm planning to be aware of my own story-making, and write a narrative that features the things I treasure and value - that make the day worth every second it's being lived. Our collective story of Life After Covid19 is uncertain. But the future is always uncertain. Maybe, for the first time, we're learning how true that is...
I've been teaching for two decades now, and now, as an academic, I'm aware that the same problems that plague our youngest school-goers plague university students: we are a punitive society - we create these things called 'Fail' grades, and then students of all ages become fixated on the pass/fail dichotomy and begin to believe that this is how life works. It doesn't. We are all failures. Every single day. Every day something doesn't go as planned. Every year, our goals shift and change. For four billion years, our evolution has followed a whole trajectory of things that didn't pan out, and others that did. The concept of personal failure only came into our discourse in the 1800s. Before then, a fail was simply when something didn't go as planned. Now it's the most used word on the internet, the most feared thing in school, sport, business, university. We tie our survival instinct to even the smallest 'failures' like our kids losing a game or getting 3/10 on a spelling test. Those things are not important in themselves. Your child will not be poor and unhappy because he gets 3/10, unless he is made to feel unworthy about getting 3/10! These things leave trails of devastation in their wake - low self-esteem and loss of interest. Fail Brilliantly is about changing how we think about failure, but it's also a proposal to remove the word 'Fail' from schools entirely. It doesn't help anything or anyone ever. The concept of 'you've got it' or 'not yet,' is far more accurate, more helpful and more reflective of actual life. When pilots train, when they're competent, they go solo. Otherwise, 'not yet.' More practice, more experience, until the level is achieved. When we set out on a journey, whether it's climbing a mountain, or learning a new skill, there are steps forward, set-backs, and sometimes you have to cancel the journey and try another one. It's time to erase the language of failure from education and the realm of human endeavour and start using words that more accurately and helpfully reflect the real, lived day-to-day human experience.
Two days ago I gave a lecture on 'The Stressproof Classroom' to over 300 teachers and school leaders. Judging by the overwhelmingly positive feedback from many educators, I can see that many of us are on the same page. We've got to get ourselves and our kids and students off the 'stress freeway.' To that end, here's the beginning of the year talk I gave for several years running until I moved from secondary teaching to university. Maybe teachers out there will take this on as a challenge. Let's do away with homework, folks. It has a zero effect. It doesn't improve learning or autonomy. I trialled no homework over years and it resulted in a complete change in engagement and achievement in high school English. Suddenly everyone was working hard at school - and students were happy. And we got so much more done. And no one was stressed. So go for it. I challenge you to do something like it. This was my beginning of semester 'spiel' which evolved and changed very little over a few years. Thanks to all my students over the past decade who taught me how to be a better teacher.
Hi everyone and welcome to the Stressproof Classroom,where everyone gets to learn without stress. Before we start let’s establish our protocols or rules for an English lesson so that everyone gets to learn and I get to teach in an optimum environment...without stress. I’m going to tell you what I need, and you’re going to tell me what you need for optimum learning. Research has shown that you don’t learn when you’re stressed, so firstly, let’s make a list of what we each need for a low-stress environment and we'll write out that as an agreement between us. Now, this next proposal will also reduce stress, and allow you to learn in a much better way and be active and social when you go home. Here it is: I believe that six or seven hours a day at school should be enough time to get through everything that needs to be done. So, I’m doing away with homework. Yes. It’s true. Anything that you end up taking home is only what you don’t get finished in class. I’ll give you adequate time and guidance in class to complete the work, but if you chat or waste time you will have things left over to do. You may be required to read books or texts in your own time. My second proposal: I’m going to allow you as much choice as possible to write about and research topics that interest you. I believe if you’re interested and engaged, you’ll learn much more, and the rest of us will learn from you too! Finally, we’re going to spend this first lesson on the assessment criteria. I will show each of you where you are on your own learning continuum and you will have a clear idea of what you need to do to improve. This too, should help you see the value in what you’re learning and how you’re progressing. This hopefully gets rid of surprise or ‘unfair’ grades. In this class, your task is to develop and learn and think critically and be creative. There is no limit to your own mind and thinking – and that’s what I’ll be thinking as I work with you this semester.
'The Stressproof Classroom' University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland Australia. February 22, 2017
Unlocking Parental Intelligence:
Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior
Interview with author Laurie Hollman, Ph.D.
Holidays are here and children are home. However wonderful this may be, this is also the time when family dynamics can get pretty intense with everyone home all of the time, and have parents counting the days until school starts again. If you want to enjoy every moment with your kids and find meaning in every interaction, read further.
In her groundbreaking book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence:
Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior, Dr Laurie Hollman empowers us as parents to find the source of our own innate intelligence and unlock it. As we become mindful of the issues driving our own and our children’s behaviors, we can become pro-active, connected parents, reading our children and understanding the messages behind their behaviors instead of just reacting to them. In a world of profound disconnect, this book is a guiding hand, crediting us with the deep parenting intelligence we all have, and giving us the tools we need to use it.
Shelley Davidow, December, 2016
Below is a book description followed by an interview with the author.
As a new or seasoned parent, there are always questions you have about your children. You don’t understand why they can’t just listen to what you say. Unlocking Parental Intelligence allows parents of all walks of life to answer the questions:
Why do children do what they do?
What’s on their minds?
How can parents know their child’s inner world?
Unlocking Parental Intelligence lifts the curtain on these questions by helping parents become “meaning-makers” who understand the significance behind their kids’ behaviors. With five enlightening steps, parents will solve problems by learning what their kids think, want, intend, and feel. They will see actions as communications. The challenge is to understand their messages.
Parental Intelligence helps parents as they wrestle with the common and sometimes desperate vexations of family life. Experienced psychoanalyst Laurie Hollman, PhD, explains Parental Intelligence through compelling stories of parents who view distressing behaviors as catalysts for change by transforming them into open exchanges of ideas and feelings.
Stories about parents using Parental Intelligence to understand various puzzling behaviors include a fussy baby, a two-year-old with temper tantrums, a four-year-old with Asperger Syndrome, a six-year-old twin who hits his brother, an eight-year-old with ADHD, a thirteen-year-old with an anxious mother, a depressed fifteen-year-old with a messy room, and a lonely, brilliant seventeen-year-old.
Parents and professionals alike will find a new empathic approach from this uplifting book that will reshape families’ lives and guide them through all stages of typical and atypical child development
1.Laurie, what inspired you to write your book?
It’s hard to write in the past tense about being “inspired” because even though the book is finished and published, I continue to be inspired to write about unlocking Parental Intelligence. My inspiration has had and continues to have three ongoing sources for which I am grateful—the children and parents I treat in my clinical
practice, my children, and my grandchildren.
Furthermore, I’m fortunate to be able to continue to write about parenting and Parental Intelligence for Huffington Post and the brand new platform Arianna Huffington has created, Thrive Global,
so I can keep on reaching more and more parents and receive their feedback and questions. I’m still inspired!
As my three decades of psychoanalytic practice and research progressed during the years of my clinical work, I incorporated the voices of so many mothers and fathers who came to me at different stages in their parenting careers. They were questioning what to do to salvage their parent-child relationships, asking how to put their children back on a reasonable course, and wondering how to find meaning in their family life.
Feeling thankful to those parents for telling me how unlocking their Parental Intelligence benefited their families, I was compelled to narrow Parental Intelligence into five accessible steps for others to read and grow from.
My children were raised with the precepts of Parental Intelligence. It was natural for me to want to understand their minds—their thoughts, feelings, intentions, and imaginings. It brought me close to them as they grew. Early on we began to learn from each other as I tried to guide them to think for themselves about making good
judgments and choices. It’s amazing how wonderful it is to share trust and love with your children. I hadn’t coined the term Parental Intelligence when I was a young mother, but I was practicing it nonetheless.
Today I have the good fortune to have two empathic, industrious sons with wonderful senses of humor who enjoy learning, creating, and relating well with others in their own individual ways. They have been and surely are an inspiration for my writing.
At the conclusion to my acknowledgments for the book I also thank the future generation who inspire me. I write: “I can’t conclude without thanking the future generation: my loving grandsons
Zander, age seven, and Eddie, age four. Hearing their remarkable use of language
at such young ages and watching their vibrant youthfulness has always inspired me to keep on writing. When they confide in me their personal thoughts and wishes, I am reminded of the essence of Parental Intelligence; the close bonds it brings between parent and child, grandparent and grandchild.”
2. What distinguishes your approach from other approaches to parent-child conflict
My approach is distinguished by my intent to help parents become “meaning makers.” Three basic interrelated tenets lie behind Parental Intelligence:
1.Behaviors have underlying meanings;
2.Once parents understand how their own minds are working, they are liberated
to understand their child—how their child’s mind is working;
3.Once meanings are clear, options surface by which to change unwanted,puzzling behaviors.
When these three core concepts come into play when parents are faced with misbehavior, first they ask, “What does it mean” not “What do I do?” With this in mind, the ambiance of family life fundamentally changes.
When parents get to know themselves —their reactions to their child and the many
influences on their parenting—they find that they gain a better understanding of their child who wants to be known as he or she actually is. This means that parents no longer focus on the child’s specific misbehavior as the overarching troubles and problems emerge. When those problems are addressed, the original misbehavior loses importance and usually stops. Parents learn how to understand the underlying determinants to their child’s behavior, how to ‘read’ nonverbal as well as verbal communication, and how to create an open dialogue.
3. If you could give parents just one piece of advice, what would it be?
The major premise behind Parental Intelligence is that a child’s behavior or misbehavior has meaning and often more than one. Once the treasure trove of meaning emerges, we realize there are many possible reactions to misbehavior. My advice is to not react quickly or even immediately, but to step back and mentally
remove yourself from the situation, so you can calmly review it and begin the process of understanding it. I know this is very difficult at first when your child is too loud or too quiet, but with practice it can become a natural response that is very effective.
It’s amazing how when kids see their parents react calmly, quietly, and slowly they begin to slow down themselves. Parents set in motion a process of self-reflecting for themselves and their child. Children sense the love and care their parent is willing to invest in them and they, too, over time, become curious about their misbehavior.
Just one example: I remember a father calling me to share that his eight-year-old son screamed vociferously that morning about how his back pack was filled by his father. Perplexed, but cautious, his father didn’t react and waited. When the boy was walking out the door, he turned to his confused father and said, “Don’t worry,
Dad, I don’t really care about the back pack. I’m worried and angry about something else I’ll tell you about when I get home.” This child, at eight-years-old, had already learned his behavior had meaning and he intended to communicate it to his father. That’s a remarkable moment!
4.How did you come up with the title?
I use the word, “unlocking” because I believe parents should never be
underestimated—even when they doubt themselves. In my book, they are given the tools to “unlock” all the knowledge they have about their child so they can use my five steps of Parental Intelligence to harness what they know to become even more effective parents.
Just today a patient told me about intending to buy three copies of my book—one for her daughter who just had a baby, one for her daughter-in-law with her six-year-old grandson, and one for herself. She said to me that her favorite word now is “unlocking” because these ideas have helped her to unlock all the resources from inside her to live a fulfilling life
With Parental Intelligence, you figure out the whys behind your child’s behavior. Knowing why your child behaves a certain way will allow you to find the best approach to dealing with the behavior. Understanding why your child acts out, disobeys, or behaves in disruptive, disturbing, puzzling ways is the key to preventing the recurrence of the behavior. Parental Intelligence provides that understanding.
5.Briefly, what is the book about?
The book is divided into three sections. The first gives the theory of Parental Intelligence describing the 5 steps that are like a tool kit to understanding your child’s behavior and the underlying problems that lay beneath it.
The second part gives eight stories of parents with children from infancy to age 17 who have applied the 5 steps to their child’s puzzling behavior. You will meet two teenage parents, an adopted child with temper tantrums, a stay- at-home father and working mother who are learning how to love and nurture their son with Aspergers Syndrome, a child with ADHD, a highly anxious mother whose daughter is affected by her mother’s mental illness, a depressed teenager, and a lonely, brilliant seventeen-year-old whose parents use Parental Intelligence to connect with her and further her emotional and social development.
The third part of the book looks to a future where parents use Parental Intelligence. I discuss how children raised this way would learn to be complex thinkers facing our complicated world. My younger millennial son is quoted describing how when a child is raised with Parental Intelligence he has the potential to become a leader who is empathic and open to the diversity of our world.
6. Do you have any recommendations for parents to help their kids cope with stress?
My most important recommendation is for parents to become “meaning-makers” looking to understand their kids’ behavior as cues to the stresses they are under. By engaging their kids in conversations about their stress by listening without interrupting—really hearing them out until they are finished with their thoughts—the children are relieved to find they are not alone with their feelings about the stressors. This creates a strong parent-child bond that in itself relieves stress. When a child or teen feels understood the stress emotional temperature starts coming down and then the parent and child can find solutions to stressful problems.
7. What's the most important message you want your readers to get from your book?
I want readers to know that external behavior has internal meaning. I don’t want parents to get stuck on the actions of their kids, but look to figure out the message the action is sending. Sometimes kids don’t have the words or words don’t suffice to communicate, so they act out. That’s when stepping back and thinking about what might the message of the behavior be comes into play. As you get to know what’s going on in your mind and the mind of your child, problem solving comes quite naturally.
8. It’s fascinating that you’ve been an educator. Can you tell us something about your teaching experience?
I’ve taught on many levels from elementary school to being on the faculties of New York University on the post graduate level and Long Island University teaching counseling for children and adults as well as on the faculties of the Society for Psychoanalytic Study and Research and the Long Island Institute for Psychotherapy where I trained psychotherapists. Despite this diversity, what all the teaching held in common was that my connection with each student furthered their ability to learn.
As an elementary school teacher I remember spending many of my lunch hours with individual students just talking if they seemed troubled or giving them a particular lesson on a subject they had difficulty with using their best learning style. This connection fostered their growth.
At NYU I taught listening skills to psychotherapists in training showing them how to find themes in their patients’ communications and to listen for the unconscious. I also taught art therapy for children to the postgrad students which was creative and inspiring. This was all very rewarding as the students got to know themselves better as they got to understand their patients.
As a teacher of psychoanalytic therapists in training I particularly taught about personality disorders. This is a very difficult subject for new trainees. Once again, my relationship with each student helped foster their growth as they learned to understand how their patients’ minds were working. It was very rewarding to see how my relationship with my students helped them learn just as a parent’s relationship with their child helps them develop and grow.
About the Author
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst with specialized clinical training in infant-parent, child, adolescent, and adult psychotherapy. She has been on the faculties of New York University and the Society for Psychoanalytic Study and Research, among others. She has written extensively on parenting for various publications, including the Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, The International Journal of Infant Observation, The Inner World of the Mother, Newsday’s Parents & Children Magazine, Long Island Parent. She also wrote her popular column, PARENTAL INTELLIGENCE, at Moms Magazine and has been a parenting expert for numerous publications such as Good Housekeeping and Bustle Lifestyle. She currently writes for Active Family Magazine (San Francisco), Thrive Global and blogs for Huffington Post. Her recent book is Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior. To learn more go to Dr. Hollman’s website at lauriehollmanphd.com.
With the upcoming release of my biographical memoir Whisperings in the Blood (UQP 2016), I think with compassion of the millions of people all over the world who are compelled to leave the land they are born in and search for new homes. If this book does one thing only, I hope it will illicit empathy for the immigrant experience.
All of us have immigrant blood. So many of us have been refugees of one kind or another. We are born into a certain time, in a certain country, and our births are accidents of fate. Most of us crave safety and the chance to live without constant fear, and so when we find ourselves growing up on volatile soil, we are propelled to run, to find safe havens. When my great-grand-father fled Lithuania around 1913, he escaped poverty and life-threatening persecution. But when he arrived in America, he spoke little English. He struggled to make a living.
He became once again, an invisible person living on the edge. When his daughter Bertha was ten, his wife Ethel died of pneumonia, and Bertha and her brother grew up in the Jewish Orphan Home in Ohio. She had nowhere to go when she reached the age of 16. No relatives would take her in. She had no money and she hadn't even finished high school. So when a marriage proposal from a stranger in South Africa came her way, she said yes. She had nothing to lose. She hoped, as so many of us do, that somewhere out there she would find home. It seems that my family has been making immigrant journeys for the past hundred years, restlessly propelled in a transgenerational search for home. If I could express one overwhelming thought it would be this: we are one human race. We have the same dreams, the same fears. We are not separate groups of 'us' and 'them'.
Our mirror neurons react exquisitely when we are confronted with other human experiences of pain and trauma. We are each other and we know each others' experience. It's only when we are damaged that we fail to see ourselves reflected back in the faces of refugees, immigrants and people who have arrived and will always arrive from 'somewhere else.'
Why does the self-esteem of today’s kids seem to be falling?
We’re so obsessed by measurable outcomes in terms of quantifiable achievement in our kid’s lives these days, that I think we’re generating a huge problem in terms of their feelings of self-worth. For example, we praise high grades and high performance and frown upon failure. We make achievement or lack of it synonymous with who our children are. We need to make sure our kids know that we value them, regardless of their grades, their mistakes, their achievements, or lack thereof. How they are perceived influences profoundly how they feel about themselves.
According to my anecdotal research at school (I teach kids aged 13-18), kids feel that parents and teachers seem to be saying either implicitly or explicitly that they’re not good enough. This impacts their self-esteem.
My book, Raising Stress-Proof Kids (forthcoming, Familius, 2015) highlights that as we push our kids towards academic success on this imaginary stress-freeway towards an imaginary finish-line, the results are all too often high anxiety, depression, and even suicide in many countries.
The world is full of brilliant, creative individuals who can do more than just achieve high marks. Some people may even take a while to find their ‘thing’ and that’s okay. If Steve Jobs hadn’t taken a calligraphy class in Oregon while he was trying to find out what he really wanted to do in the world, we wouldn’t have fonts on our computers! We need to be interested in the world and show our kids that there is space forwhoever they are going to be in this world.
So, in short:
As parents, we’re often anxious…we want our kids to be successful in the world, so this often leads to us pushing them to succeed, sometimes from when they’re really young.
But what we don’t get, is that being stressed actually gets in the way of healthy emotional and intellectual development. Chronic stress prevents optimum blood flow to the brain and gets the body into a fight-or-flight response. The more time young kids spend in that state, the more that becomes the baseline…and when they’re stressed, because the fight-or-flight response is our bodies’ historic way of helping us outrun or escape danger, it is impossible to be emotionally calm or to think clearly. We’re fed a lot of info about the need to succeed, and so we inadvertently put a lot of pressure on our kids to succeed…and that pressure can cause unnecessary stress. In fact, their long-term success (and health!) depends upon them being given the capacity to be resilient. It takes a full 21 years for the brain to be fully mature, and children develop at different rates, just like not every child walks on their first birthday! So stressing our kids about their achievements is counter-productive.
As a teacher of almost two decades, I see so many young people feeling burdened by the unrealistic expectations that well-intentioned moms and dads and teachers put on them. These kids develop anxiety, depression, feelings of low self-worth and self-destructive behaviors. If we do our bit to reduce the pressures they already face, by NOT putting so much pressure on them ourselves, we can help them immensely.
There are many ways of reducing stress in our families. An important one is our own behaviours and responses to our children’s behaviours. Also, teaching our kids how to get themselves into a state of high coherence (see www.heartmath.org) is really helpful in terms of assisting them to identify and modify a physiological stress-response. If we know that chronic stress gets in the way of healthy intellectual and emotional functioning, (as well as being a precursor to all kinds of negative things like anxiety, depression, and yes, heart disease), then we know we need to do all we can to prevent it. They (and we as parents!) can learn how to stop stress in its tracks and get our nervous systems back into order.
Tips for reducing stress in the family:
The recent sale of Raising Stress-Proof Kids to Familius Books in the USA is really great news. They're a publisher with a wonderful ethos...supporting families, parenting, and children. I'll be writing regular articles for them online...here's the first one: http://www.familius.com/need-to-succeed#.VBAErEjbIux.
Because I lived and taught in the States for more than a decade, the issues faced by kids there are close to my heart and prompted much of the research into stress that became the background for Raising Stress-Proof Kids. The book's due to come out there in April 2015...
After a wonderful, full two weeks in the UK, I'm back in the land of OZ. Conversations with readers of Raising Stress-Proof Kids at my two book events in London and Norwich lead me to realise that so many parents in the UK as well as Australia are dealing with very stressed out kids and are very stressed themselves.
UK teens are faced with the stress of doing well at their GCSE's or A-Levels. Parents are anxious…and usually involved in pushing kids to do their best… and though this comes from a good place we’ve definitely lost the plot somewhere. As members of the public told me, we know this intuitively, but it’s good to have it brought to attention: chronic stress prevents optimal cognitive function!
So if we want kids to function well during exams, stress-proofing them is partly about us NOT feeding their anxiety, about us maintaining our own sense of calm even in the midst of a storm, and about us as parents NOT adding to the pressures they already face by making exams look like a life-or-death scenario. After they write those final tests, the sun still comes up, and life goes on, and the real truth is, our kids are likely to have several different careers in their long lives. If we do our bit to reduce the pressures they already face, by NOT putting so much pressure on them ourselves, we can help them immensely.
Teaching our kids how to get themselves into a state of high coherence (see www.heartmath.org) is also really helpful in terms of them being able to cope and survive exam pressure. They can learn how to stop stress in its tracks and get their nervous systems back into order. I think that it’s so important for our teens to be given the right support so that they don’t fall through the cracks. And there’s a lot we can do as parents to make life less stressful for them. Of course that’s what Raising Stress-Proof Kids is all about. : )
Shelley Davidow is an internationally acclaimed author. She is also a teacher, academic and trained facilitator in Restorative Practice, conducting workshops throughout the world.