Local to Speak on Art Of Parenting

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Susan Stiffelman

Susan Stiffelman, local Master of Family Therapy, parenting coach and weekly blogger of all things parental on The Huffington Post, will be ruminating on conflict resolution strategies in negotiation with teens at Bank of Books on Saturday. She will be reading from her bestselling “Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected” – a parenting guidebook that has drawn international accolades.

The Malibu Times spoke with Stiffelman about the question that is as old as Methuselah, but as relevant as social networking: What is wrong with my kid?

Most parents have experienced hair-tearing moments with their children. What’s your angle with communication?

My goal is to help parents foster the kind of connection where you come alongside your kid, rather than at him. Then, parents can position themselves so they are the person their kids want to become—instead of them just following peers.

Your book was first published in 2009. Culture moves quickly. Do you have new insights to add?

Oh, absolutely. One thing is that my book has been sold in countries where their cultures are so different, like China. Dragon Moms have read my book! I’ve spoken in Africa, Paris and Tel Aviv. I engage with parents now through Facebook and online classes. It’s only helped me to develop my ideas more fully.

Do certain problems with children transcend countries and cultures?

Sure, there are themes. If a kid is chronically ignoring you and is defiant, the only way you can approach him is by connecting first. If the quality of the relationship is not friendly, it won’t work. We are biased to resist coercion. So I talk about how to change the pH of a relationship with your kid. Is your connection acidic? If so, you don’t take out more acid, you add more alkaline.

What’s an example of “coming alongside” your kid?

I had a mother with a 16-year-old who just hated to be in the same room with her. And there’s not much you can do to control a 16-year-old. The girl just didn’t feel a connection with her mother or that they had anything in common. I talked about it with her mom and found out that they had a common appreciation of photography, which they started to study together. I encouraged her to tell her daughter specifically whenever her daughter did something she liked, such as, “I liked the way you helped that old lady” or “Your patience with your brother in the store was really appreciated.” So many of our interactions with our kids are about what they did wrong, not right.

What is the greatest mistake parents make today with their teens?

They are afraid of their kids’ anger. You have to lovingly define parameters and then be willing to watch your kid be unhappy. Then you help them discover that they can live through disappointment.

Are there problems parents face with children today that are substantially different from our parents’ generation? 

There are problems today I didn’t even face with my own son. We didn’t have Facebook 10 years ago. There are so many distractions! Kids have so much homework today and you know kids—they never want to do homework or dishes.

Distractions like mobile devices?

Yes! They’re horrible! They are disconnecting from humanity. It’s a drug.

What is the single greatest thing parents can do to help their children achieve success and fulfillment?

We know that a secure, loving, deep parental attachment empowers a child to grow up with confidence and resilience. There are studies that show that impact on the brain. It’s not a big allowance or dance classes every day that gives that confidence, though recognizing every child’s unique talents is important. Helping our kids to be seen and cherished for who they are, instead of who we think they should be, is the first step. It can’t be a case of, “If you do well in school, it makes me look like a good parent.”

Raising a child is like unwrapping a present. You don’t really know what’s inside. It’s always a delightful surprise.

Susan Stiffelman will read from her book on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Bank of Books in Point Dume Village.