69% of parents say that if they knew more positive parenting strategies, they would use them. To those parents, you’re in the right place. In this episode of The Agent of Wealth podcast, Marc Bautis speaks with Maria Sanders, a licensed social worker and certified parent coach who specializes in the areas of child development, conscious parenting and social/emotional development to support parents in creating a sense of calm, confidence and connection within themselves and their families. Using the expertise she’s gathered from her Collaborative Problem Solving® Certification and over 20 years of hands-on experience, Sanders offers solutions for some of the most frequent challenges that arise for parents.
In this episode, you will learn:
- How parents can get clear on their boundaries and family values.
- How to create realistic expectations for your child’s growth and development.
- Skills and solutions for long-term parenting success.
- What collaborative problem-solving is and the ideal age to begin this approach.
- How to balance collaborative problem-solving with parental authority.
- How parents can tackle social media and screen time issues with their children.
- And more!
This is the third installment in a six-part Agent of Wealth series, called “Health is Wealth.” Listen to the other episodes:
- How to Start Exercising and Stay Motivated
- How to Overcome Your Sugar Addiction
- Tools for Solving Common Sleep Issues
- How to Build Resilience
On today’s show, we brought on a special guest, Maria Sanders. Maria is a licensed social worker and PCI-certified parent coach who has specialized in working with children and families for over 20 years. Maria brings together her knowledge and expertise in the areas of child development, conscious parenting and social-emotional development to support parents in creating a sense of calm, confidence and connection within themselves and their families. Maria, welcome to The Agent of Wealth podcast.
I’m excited to talk about parenting. We’re doing a series on the podcast called Health is Wealth where we’re talking about health-related topics like nutrition, exercise, stress management and sleeping better — with the idea that if you can improve your health, it can ultimately lead to better wealth. I think today’s topic of parenting fits in perfectly, because parenting can be challenging, leading to increased stress. And over the last year the COVID-19 pandemic exponentially increased those stress levels.
How did you get started as a parent coach?
Such a good question! I’ll tell you about where I started and that’ll help explain why I’m here. I was a school social worker for about 15 years, working on the child study team. I absolutely loved that job because I got to work with parents and also do social skills groups with kids, and crisis intervention. I also did something called early intervention, which is working with families below the age of three, where the children have some sort of developmental delay.
Once I had my own kids, I realized that after spending all these years working with other families, I just wanted to be home with mine. So I took a few years off from work, knowing that I always wanted to go back. And then when I had an opportunity to go back, I was like, “Hmm, what do I do here?” I had various options of what I could get into, and coincidentally, I had spoken to a parent coach because I was having some difficulties with one of my kids and needed support. What she — the parent coach — offered me was so amazing. From there, I decided that’s the route I wanted to take.
As a school social worker, I worked with lots of parents and always thought that it would be a walk in the park when I had kids. ‘I got this,’ I’d think. I’d been a camp counselor, babysitter, big sister, big cousin, teacher, etc. And because I had all of those experiences under my belt, I really thought ‘I got this.’ Then I had two of my own, who were very close in age, and soon enough I found myself in the basement, crying on the phone to my husband telling him we need help. And here I am, someone who thought I knew it all.
No matter how prepared you are for parenting, it’s challenging… you just don’t learn it in school. You’re just thrust into it. I see similarities to my world as a financial advisor, when it comes to financial literacy. It’s the same thing — you don’t learn about it in school. I’m sure with parenting — as with financial literacy — if we had education going into it, it would be a lot easier.
A list of things that weren’t taught in school, but Agent of Wealth host Marc Bautis thinks should be taught:
- Financial Literacy
- Problem Solving
- Online Etiquette and Safety
- Listening Skills
- Negotiation Skills
- Basic Home and Car Maintenance
- How to Spot a Scam
Yes. And learning is so empowering. Even in just a few sessions with a coach. When I’m working with parents who start to understand more of their child’s development, it’s so freeing to say, “Okay, now it’s making sense.”
When Should Parents Seek Help?
At what point does a parent say, “Okay, I need help”? We all go through struggles and challenges as parents, but at what point should someone seek help?
I could answer this in two ways. The first: There’s no right or wrong way to parent. It should “feel good.” If it doesn’t feel good, then you know something’s not right. The second: I do have parents who come to me proactively. I’ve had parents seek help because their families were planning a cross-country move and they anticipated that there would be a challenge in that move for their child. I can help in areas of big transition. I also see situations where a parent is divorced and about to get remarried, coming to me for help with creating a positive dynamic in a blended family. Whatever the case may be, some families are currently in a situation that’s challenging, while others are recognizing that a challenge is about to occur, and reach out for support then.
Are your engagements usually one-on-one or in group settings?
I do both. Mostly, I do one-on-one sessions with the parents alone. I also offer group classes. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I offered group classes at my office consisting of about 10 to 20 parents, covering different topics. During the COVID-19 pandemic I offer some virtual workshops.
How long is the typical engagement?
Usually I work with families, on average, for 10 to 12 weeks. Of course there are some families that I work with for less time than that, and some that I will work with for more. The engagement depends on the families challenges, and ability. I give parents homework. So at the end of every session, they get an assignment with the expectation that, during the other 6 days of the week, they are practicing the skills and tools that we talked about during the session. That homework aspect of the engagement makes a big difference in how long we work together.
Makes sense. I’m sure you can see the measurable progress over time in terms of how things are getting better.
Yes, it’s based on their reporting. I ask them, “How is this feeling?” In reality, children are still going to have temper tantrums and give parents a hard time. But hopefully the cadence and magnitude of them shifts, meaning it’s not as explosive.
The other part of a parent’s progress is how well they are responding to the situations at home. Even if their child blows up, are they able to find a way to stay calm and be supportive? If so, that’s progress. The parent will know things are getting better by how things feel — they feel like they’re doing a better job, they feel more confident in having expectations and boundaries.
In your opinion, should parenting be done differently based on birth order or even sex? Or is there no right or wrong way to do it?
It’s really based on the dynamic of the family. We all know that even if you have a set of twins that are the same age — and maybe even the same sex — they shouldn’t be treated the same. They are two individual children. Yes, there is a foundation for what I talk about in how we engage and connect with our kids. But with that being said, every child is individual. So there are going to be some differences in how we approach conversations and problem solve depending on who they are, and what strengths they have. It’s not just about birth order, sex, age or anything like that.
You mentioned problem solving. I was recently listening to a Joe Rogan podcast episode and the guest, Michael Easter, authored a book about embracing discomfort. It’s called The Comfort Crisis, Embracing Discomfort To Reclaim Your Wild, Happy, Healthy Self. Easter brought up parenting on the show, saying that we’ve become too comfortable in our lives, which in turn makes our children’s lives too comfortable. He used the term “helicopter parents,” for parents who solve their kids’ problems — instead of letting them figure it out themselves. He suggested that we need to challenge our kids and have them solve problems. Do you see a benefit to this?
How Collaborative Problem-Solving Can Be Applied to Parenting
I’m certified in collaborative problem-solving, and while there is a lot to the certification, one of the main topics it covered was how a parent and child can become partners in problem solving.
Let’s say there is a challenging situation at home — for example, a child won’t put on their shoes when it’s time to leave for school. Here’s how collaborative problem solving works:
Through a structured conversation,
- The child is given a chance to explain and share their perspective or concern with regards to the situation.
- The parent is given a chance to explain and share their perspective or concern with regards to the situation.
- The child and parent come together to find a solution that addresses both concerns mutually.
The reason why this approach is effective is because it’s centered on building neurocognitive thinking skills in the areas of flexibility, frustration tolerance and problem solving. In the process, children are using behavioral tools like attention, working memory and social thinking skills. These are what we call “21st century skills.”
With that being said — yes, I absolutely think it’s important to engage your child in this process because it helps them build these skills that they will need when they’re adults.
When Should You Begin Parenting with Collaborative Problem-Solving?
At what age do you recommend to engage your kids in this type of parenting?
The ideal age is five or six and older. With that being said, I’ve worked with parents of three and four-year-olds who are interested in this approach.
Discipling Children Without Rewards and Punishments
This approach also involves a real mindset shift. We often think kids will do well if they want to. And when we think along those lines, we follow up with ways of “manipulating” or trying to motivate them to do better — we offer rewards, consequences and punishments. Parents will tell me, “Maria, I took away the phone. I took away the iPad. I took away dessert. I took away everything. The behavior is still happening.” Why? Because those things don’t work long-term, and it’s not about the best kind of reward or the best kind of punishment. It’s about building the skill.
We have to stop looking at our kids with the lens of, “they’re trying to push my buttons and be difficult.” Instead, we have to say, “my child is having a tough time — there must be something getting in the way of them doing well and I wonder what that is.” This way, we can come from a place of curiosity.
So there is a lot that we can bring from the collaborative problem-solving approach into our parenting with super young kids, like three and four. That being said, we also know that just because a kid is nine years old, doesn’t necessarily mean that they have the language and communication skills that another nine-year-old has. Actually, this work helps to build a lot of those skills. And what we do, when kids are sort of limited in vocabulary because of age or some other delay or challenge, is we model for them what the language looks like.
There are many kids who will cross their arms. You’ll ask them, “Hey buddy, what’s going on? Can you tell me what’s up today?” But they say nothing — either they literally say the word, “nothing,” or they actually do not say anything. So, what do we do? We have to help them. And there are a lot of tools that parents can use to help bring out information — such as asking certain kinds of questions — to uncover what’s beneath the surface for the child.
One area of parenting that I have really struggled with is pushing kids to do extracurricular activities. Nowadays, a lot of children are doing so many things — like sports, music lessons, additional academics, etc. Is there a fine line between pushing them too much, too far, too fast?
The Difference Between Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation
In answering that question, let us focus on the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation comes from rewards and external motivators. An example would be if a child does really well on a test, they will get some kind of reward. It can be effective sometimes.
While I don’t think we need to abolish extrinsic motivation, a child’s drive is what’s important. That intrinsic drive to do well is what’s going to be more effective long-term. It’s much more effective when there aren’t any external motivators.
Yes, there are nice ways to “push our kids”, but more importantly, I would focus on helping them build intrinsic motivation. Parents ask me how a lot, and I always reference “CAR.”
What drives motivation? Let’s use the acronym CAR:
- C – Competency.
- A – Autonomy.
- R – Relatedness.
Do children naturally pick up on competency, autonomy and relatedness, or do parents have to push them towards something that generates these aspects of motivation?
With regards to competency, what parents should do is ask themselves if their child can do the thing. Whatever it is. If you want your child to do well in math, you must ask yourself if they are capable of doing well. There might be some need for parents to “check in” on a child’s competence level for a given skill.
Autonomy has to do with giving your kids some choice. Instead of telling your child you’re signing them up for lacrosse because that’s what you played as a kid, approach them by saying. “Hey, lacrosse season is approaching and we’d love for you to play. But here are some other options for sports also available for you to play in the same season.” This way, the child has some ownership in the direction they choose to go.
Now I acknowledge that parents can’t always let our kids choose everything, but they should be more mindful of allowing their kids to have options.
And then the relatedness comes from connecting with our kids, which I help a lot of parents through. I think parents tend to talk a lot — we tend to lecture, and it often goes over our kids’ heads. Parents should seek to spend more time actively listening and asking questions. Again, this comes from a place of curiosity and understanding. When a child feels seen and heard, it is validating for them — which helps build intrinsic motivation, self-esteem, and self-empowerment.
How to Limit Your Child’s Screen Time
Earlier, you mentioned the consequences of rewards. I want to backtrack a bit and ask your opinion on smartphones, tablets and other devices. Is there a way to wean children off of technology? Is it best to replace the time that they’re on technology with another activity? What’s the best approach when it’s gotten too far?
That’s a big question that so many parents have. Especially following the COVID-19 pandemic, so many of us (including me) got lax on the amount of screen time our kids could have — because we were home for so long. I recommend going back to the collaborative approach we were talking about. Say, “Hey kiddos, I’d like to sit down and talk to you. I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of screen time going on. I’m not cool with it. I would like to know what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling about how much screen time you’re using.” Remember that we want to check in on their feelings and take time to understand their perspective.
For a lot of children, technology is a form of communication. So, as parents, we want to be mindful of their experience.
Then, move into that problem-solving phase where you say, “We need to rework this.” What can that look like? Take both perspectives into consideration and find some sort of structure that works for everybody — because it really has to work for everyone. It can’t just be mommy’s way or daddy’s way. It can’t just be the child’s way because that’s not going to be good for mom or dad, or whomever the guardian is. The resolution should be something that everyone feels good about.
What Age Should Children Be on Social Media?
You mentioned chatting with friends online. In your opinion, what is the right age for a child to be on social media? Because social media can be a major problem for kids. At first, they’re chatting with friends or classmates and then, all of a sudden, they’re attacking or getting bullied.
I don’t think there is one singular “right age.” But, as parents, when we say “yes,” we have to know what it is we’re saying yes to. It’s a lot of work, but we have to educate ourselves about the different social media platforms, apps, programs, and whatever else our kids are interested in using. I also think it’s important to find opportunities to teach our children about how communication is different online versus in-person. We have to find ways to teach correct social media etiquette.
My kids don’t even have free rein online, but I’ve talked to them about different exposures and risks. This way, preemptively, before I open the door to TikTok or Facebook, they’re a bit more prepared.
As a parent, it’s easier to say, “All right — the kids are on their screens. I can get some work done.” But it’s important for adults to put the work in and reconnect with their boundaries and values.
Determining Boundaries and Values
When it comes to coaching, boundaries and values, do you recommend parents document them on paper?
Well, you’re much more likely to reach a goal if you can actually see it.
A lot of the work that I do with my clients is visualizing how they want to see their family and finding an external reminder.
For some parents, it might be a bracelet. Every time they see that bracelet, they’re reminded that they’re working on not yelling at their kids — for example. At one point, I was working on something with my children and I had Post-It Notes all around the house with my goal on it. That way, I was constantly reminded of what I’m working toward. For some parents, it’s putting the goals down on paper, maybe creating a “contract.” That way, it’s tangible.
That makes sense. And if you take the collaborative problem-solving approach, you’re getting the buy-in from the children on a contract.
Absolutely. When parents say, “it’s my way or the highway,” or don’t listen to their kids, oftentimes there’s an increase in challenging behavior. The same behavior that we’re working to squash, increases. It doesn’t build skills when a parent dictates what to do. It doesn’t help the child build those neurocognitive thinking skills I was talking about. And it doesn’t build a strong relationship.
If we’re going to get through any hard stuff with our kids, we have to have a great foundation. The child should feel like they have a voice, and that their voice matters. And, like you said, getting their buy-in is basically hearing them out.
Balancing Collaborative Problem-Solving with Parental Authority
Is there a balance though, between the collaborative and parental authority? For instance, if you know that something is wrong for them to do it? How do you incorporate the parental authority aspect into this approach?
Well this is linked to setting boundaries. Though we don’t have to shift from from the boundaries we set, it’s still important to hear the child out. Sometimes parents think something is “right” when it may not be. I mean… aside from safety. If it’s a safety issue, that’s in a whole different category. But I’ve seen parents have certain rules and expectations that I ask them about, to which they respond, “I actually don’t really know why I have that rule.” Or… “I don’t know. It’s just because…” Just because.
It’s important for parents to take time to think about their rules and expectations to decide if they are developmentally appropriate. Ask yourself if it is realistic to expect these things of your child. Consideration of your child’s perspective may result in thinking differently about a solution.
Well, we’re just about out of time. We covered a lot of great topics in parenting, and I’m sure we could spend hours talking. How best can a listener learn more about you, or connect with you?
My website is mariasandersparentcoach.com. I am also on Instagram and Facebook with the same handle.