The chaotic state of the world and alarming rates of depression and anxiety among children and teens have today’s parents treading in turbulent waters. I asked Sarah R. Moore, founder of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting and author of “Peaceful Discipline: Story Teaching, Brain Science & Better Behavior,” for her advice.
Here’s what she said.
The Epoch Times: What inspired you to write your new book, “Peaceful Discipline: Story Teaching, Brain Science & Better Behavior?”
Sarah R. Moore: A decade ago, when my daughter was an infant, her pediatrician flat-out told me to never pick up my child when she cried. Although my intuition told me I should respond to her, he said she was manipulating me and that I should let him know when I was ready to “get serious about parenting.”
At the time, I froze at the shock of his inane advice. It was then and there, though, that I decided my calling was to empower other parents and caregivers to build responsive, connection-based relationships with children of all ages. This book was born of my desire to, as he suggested, get very serious about parenting—although my path was not as he intended. (And yes, we found a much better informed pediatrician and never returned to the first guy).
The Epoch Times: We are living in challenging times. From what you’re seeing through your work, how do you believe parents are faring?
Ms. Moore: My heart goes out to parents. They’re struggling big time. According to a recent study, 66 percent of parents are suffering from burnout way above and beyond everyday stressors. This burnout is strongly associated with depression, anxiety, and increased alcohol consumption, as well as the likelihood for parents to engage in punitive parenting practices.
I see this in every parenting group I coach and hear about it daily. Parents need compassion and practical support for conscious parenting more than ever.
The Epoch Times: There is increasing concern about the mental health of children and teens. What are some simple ways parents can nurture their children’s well-being in this regard?
Ms. Moore: Between chronic overscheduling and intense pressure to perform, children and teens really can’t catch a break these days. “Rest” has disappeared from our vocabulary, or at best, we consider it a luxury. Rest is not optional! Build in intentional downtime. Play more (adults, too). Practice not multitasking and be fully present, wherever you may be. Model for your kids that it’s OK to say “no” to people or activities that aren’t serving their physical or emotional well-being. It sounds like a radical act of self-compassion, but let your children see you exhale sometimes. Most importantly, check in with your kids. They need to know you legitimately care about them.
The Epoch Times: What do you believe are the main causes of the spike in depression and anxiety in today’s youth?
Ms. Moore: Beyond the shadow of a doubt, I believe it’s chronic disconnection. Disconnection from the self. Disconnection from others. Disconnection from our higher purpose.
As a society, we’ve replaced emotional intimacy with superficiality. On a subconscious level, children and teens are constantly asking, “Am I safe here?” Between a lack of authentic and meaningful relationships and fear that their every movement will show up on ever-critical social media, there are few “safe places” to connect in meaningful ways anymore. No one can thrive like that. Every child needs at least one person who cares enough to put down their phone, look the child in the eye, and say, “I’m here for you.” Kids need to know they still matter.
The Epoch Times: When it comes to disciplining children, what are some key practices you recommend to effectively teach children while maintaining peace at home?
Ms. Moore: We know this about the human brain: Children literally cannot learn when they feel emotionally unsafe. The learning part of the brain effectively shuts off when it perceives any form of threat (for example, a parent yelling at them). If we, the adults, can model emotional regulation and peaceful, collaborative problem-solving, that helps our children feel safe enough to run to us—rather than from us—when they have a problem or have made a poor decision.
We can remember that “discipline” means to teach, not to punish. We teach them best by modeling patience, being curious rather than critical, sharing experiences and stories, and offering compassion. Additionally, it helps a lot to learn what’s appropriate for different stages of child development, rather than making assumptions about what we think our child “should” be able to do. Children want to do well for us when they feel emotionally connected to us. I go into a lot of “how to” details in the book.
The Epoch Times: As children get older, how should parents adjust their disciplining strategies?
Ms. Moore: When children are very young, adults often make unilateral decisions about what’s best for them. This makes sense, because little kids need safe boundaries. As children get older, I recommend a collaborative approach to solving problems.
Using nonviolent communication, invite the child to brainstorm with you when a problem arises—or better, proactively before problems arise. Kids are more likely to “buy into” the right ways of handling situations if we’ve valued their input and helped them be part of the problem-solving process. Kids are so much smarter than we often give them credit for.
The Epoch Times: What do you think today’s kids need most from their parents?
Ms. Moore: According to the research of Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, children build a secure attachment with their parents when the parents help them feel the “four S’s”—safe, seen, soothed, and secure. If I had to pick one area on which to focus right now, I’d choose “seen.”
Children long to be accepted and understood. I believe truly seeing the child in front of us is perhaps the most impactful first step we can take to help mitigate the current mental health crisis. Just show up, learn what really matters to them, and give them a soft place to land with you. True safety for our children will flow from this connection. From there, they can thrive.