By Megan McQueen
As parenting educators, we celebrate growth in families. This fulfilling journey can bring us joy as we reflect on the changes made along the way. But sometimes, we may notice judgment creeping into our thoughts about the families we support. When my oldest child was a toddler and labeling colors, singing ABCs, and counting, I remember thinking, “This isn’t that hard. I just sing songs and talk to her and she learns these skills. Kids that develop typically just need adults that talk with them.” Of course, I knew it was a *bit* more complicated than that, but I needed to rein in my thoughts of others without all the skills and advantages our family had.
Reframing my views to root in strengths and center empathy helps me become the person I would like to be and supports my connection and work with families. As Think Kids and Lives in the Balance teach, “Kids [families] do well when they can.” Keeping this in mind and practicing the following tips can empower families.
Notice patterns: We may have past traumas or challenges that conversations with families can trigger. Notice your physical responses that become elevated. Perhaps your palms get clammy, or your heart rate increases. Find a subtle way to soothe yourself in the moment. Maybe you can put your hand on your heart and take a deep breath. Offer yourself self-compassion. It can be hard to support someone who unintentionally reminds you of difficult times. Talking with a therapist to work through your history and build coping strategies may be helpful.
Ground yourself: Writers such as Elena Aguilar and Brené Brown offer lists of core values to identify for ourselves. Choosing 2 or 3 top beliefs helps us navigate sticky situations and ground us in our best selves. Talking through these exercises with family, co-workers, or friends helps deepen the experience. Brené Brown’s practice offers questions to help us live into these values more often and recognize what pulls us out of them. Holding my core values close to me reminds me to center myself, especially when working with others who may typically pull me out of alignment with my principles.
Lagging Skills: Changing how we see people will change how we interact with and support families. Experts at Think Kids and Lives in the Balance suggest framing our perception of others’ actions as skill-building areas instead of people willfully trying to be troublesome. Instead of thinking, “This dad is a jerk,” we can see learning opportunities, reminding ourselves, “If he can build his self-regulation skills and handle his anger differently, he can stay connected with his kids.” Focus on strengths in people and opportunities for growth instead of naming perceived flaws as character traits.
Give to Yourself: People in “helping professions” often prioritize the needs of others over themselves. We may maintain our basic needs but feel that our families’ resilience is more critical than ours. We’ve all heard the “oxygen mask” metaphor and know that we need to care for ourselves, but practicing care may still seem elusive. Burning ourselves out does not serve our families. Building a routine for your day that includes something for yourself is crucial. Creating small moments of joy to anticipate also helps. If you dream of an international trip with friends, think of modest ways to add travel to your life that you can experience more often. Can you go out of town for a day with a friend? Plan it and look forward to it. As Ingrid Fetell Lee, the author of Joyful, writes, giving ourselves future joy can be helpful. Try pre-ordering a book and enjoy the surprise when it arrives. You are worthy of delight!
By shifting our mindsets, we take small steps to change our society. We are counteracting systemic racism, ableism, sexism, classism, etc., by opening our hearts to the people in front of us. We understand that we all are affected by these systems. By slowing down, taking care of our feelings, and humanizing the problems our families bring to class, we are rebuilding the community in a way that will center our connection.
- Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, Ph.D., MSW
- Lives in the Balance
- Onward by Elena Aguilar
- Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff, Ph.D.
- Think Kids
Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, imparting a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.