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GOOD ENOUGH PARENTING: Creating Conversations That Change Children’s Lives Dr. Brad Sachs, Ph.D MVLA High School Foundation April 24,

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Presentation on theme: "GOOD ENOUGH PARENTING: Creating Conversations That Change Children’s Lives Dr. Brad Sachs, Ph.D MVLA High School Foundation April 24,"— Presentation transcript:

1 GOOD ENOUGH PARENTING: Creating Conversations That Change Children’s Lives Dr. Brad Sachs, Ph.D MVLA High School Foundation April 24, 2014


3 Irrigate vs. Irritate

4 Illuminate vs. Eliminate

5 3 Main Components Listening Conveying Empathy Attracting Curiosity

6 Listening

7 Listening Is Not…. Confusing a child’s honesty with disrespect Confusing a child’s desire to engage with disobedience Confusing a child’s lack of self- awareness (“I don’t know”) with disengagement

8 Empathy

9 We are all born with a capacity to develop and display caregiving behaviors aimed at providing protection and support to others who are vulnerable/dependent or temporarily in need—mainly, our children

10 Empathy The ability to feel what another person is feeling but also to respond to it

11 Empathy Imbalances…

12 Too Little Identification…

13 Too Little Identification

14 Too Much Identification…

15 The Key To Empathy…. Remaining alive to the otherness of our child as well as our own childhood experience

16 Curiosity

17 The Curiosity Concept Parent-child conversations should be designed to attract children’s curiosity about who they are and why they do what they do so that they begin to discover a sense of meaning and purpose behind their actions

18 The Curiosity Concept Who do I become under the expectations that I impose upon myself and how do I develop those expectations?

19 The Curiosity Concept Who do I become under the expectations that others and the world impose upon me and how do I decide which ones to meet and which ones to relinquish?

20 The Curiosity Muscle

21 The Fourth Component

22 Impediments Expectations Vs. Reality


24 Impediments to Mighty Words



27 Impediments… Parent-Teen battles are a necessary way to acknowledge attachment to each other and come to understand each other…


29 Impediments… … the worst fights are usually created by the family’s effort to avoid fights



32 Impediments… Teens elicit in and project onto adults all of the discomfiting emotions that they are feeling…

33 Impediments… …they prefer to fight with others rather than with themselves

34 Psycho-Dialysis

35 Impediments… Teens may refuse to ask for help, or may reject help that is offered, because help reminds them of their own remaining vulnerability and dependence

36 What Are Mighty Words????

37 Mighty Words Not a debate Not a sermon or lecture Not an interrogation or cross-examination

38 Mighty Words An Inquiry (and perhaps an interesting conversation)…but not An Inquisition

39 Mighty Words No rigidly anticipated conclusion Induces further thought/reflection in the child Leads the child to converse with him/herself more than with you

40 Mighty Words Prompts the child towards increased closeness, both with others and with him/herself Encourages the child to learn new ways of finding meaning in the world Stimulates you to learn about yourself from your child

41 Mighty Words It’s all in the delivery Being more receptive to and interested in the child’s experience than s/he is

42 I Don’t Understand… “…why you get B’s and C’s when everyone says you could get A’s?”

43 I Don’t Understand… “…why I have to remind you ten times to put down your video controller and put away your laundry—that’s ALL I’m asking you to do, just put away your laundry!”

44 I Don’t Understand…. “…why you keep bothering your sister and then complaining to me when she yells when if you would just leave her alone in the first place she wouldn’t bother you at all…”

45 Mighty Words Focus on fertilizing the Soil not germinating the Seed


47 The Reality is that… The less s/he’s reacting to you… The more s/he can react to him/herself

48 Mighty Words May Mean Less Words Subtract Yourself from the Equation (Tzimtzum)

49 The Virtuous Cycle Versus The Vicious Cycle

50 Mighty Words Results in hope for the future and an increased resolve to change and grow, rather than immobilizing feelings of shame, guilt and disappointment


52 Mighty Listening I am here and I hear you I care about you I respect your point of view, even if I don’t agree with it I want to understand you and will hang in there in an effort to do so I remember and know what it is like to not feel heard and understood

53 Mighty Words What were you trying to accomplish when you acted as you did? What alternatives presented themselves? How did you decide which alternative to pursue? How do you feel about your choice, and how did it work out? What would you do differently next time?


55 Mighty Words: Personal Reflection What am I expecting of my child? Why am I expecting this? Was this something that was or is expected of me by others? Do I currently expect this of myself?

56 Mighty Words: Personal Reflection Have I always met this expectation? If I have, what was challenging about doing so? If I haven’t, why haven’t I, and is it fair of me to expect it of my child?


58 Adolescent Resourcefulness

59 Sex Dialogue I want to talk to you about something that I heard about you…I’m not going to tell you how I heard it, but I think it bears some discussion… Oh no…. I hope it’s not just an “oh-no” conversation, because it’s about something important

60 Sex Dialogue Oh no… I’ve heard that you’ve begun to be sexually active with your boyfriend… (Silence) I want to talk with you about this, but I don’t want you to think that it’s going to turn into a lecture about “good behavior”

61 Sex Dialogue Alright, what do you want to know? It’s really not about what I want to know…it’s about having a conversation and getting to know each other better. So what do you want to know? I’d like to know anything you’d like to tell me…

62 Sex Dialogue Are you going to yell? I promise that I’m not going to yell. Are you going to be angry? It depends on what you tell me…I can’t predict how I’m going to feel, because I don’t yet know what you have to say…but I can promise that I’ll try very hard to listen so that I understand you better

63 Sex Dialogue Richard and I have started having sex… Is there more that you’d like to say about that? What more is there to say? And don’t worry, he uses condoms Well, first of all, I’m glad to hear that part. Tell me, though, how you decided that it was time for the two of you to become sexually active

64 Sex Dialogue I don’t know…I mean, we’ve been seeing each other for a few months, we really care for each other…it just felt like it was time…but he didn’t force me to, we decided together I’m also glad to hear that you feel that it was a mutual decision

65 Sex Dialogue So is that it? Well, not quite…I’d like to hear a little more about what went into your decision… I already told you… You told me, but you didn’t tell me that much, so I’m still wondering… Why?

66 Sex Dialogue Because it’s a very important decision and because you’re very important to me… I don’t know how else to explain it. Well, when you say “it was just time”, how did you know it was “time”? How does anyone know? I just knew… What about your relationship with him told you it was “time”?

67 Sex Dialogue Look, I feel good about this…why are you trying to make me feel bad about this? That’s really not what I was trying to accomplish… But that’s really what you want, isn’t it? You want me to feel bad and stop having sex, right?

68 Sex Dialogue I’m sorry that it’s coming off that way, it’s really not my intent Sure it is! You want me to feel bad and stop having sex! Why else would we be having this stupid conversation? It’s not really about me telling you what to do…let’s face it, I can’t follow you around all day and all night…

69 Sex Dialogue Thank God for that! But I’d still like us to be able to talk about important decisions even if you’re the one who’s ultimately going to make those decisions… Well, I’ve made my decision, and that’s that

70 Sex Dialogue Silence So are you angry? You’re angry, aren’t you? Honestly, I have a mixture of feelings. It’s a lot for me to take in, and I’m not sure how to respond. But I don’t really think anger is one of them. That’s a relief…

71 Sex Dialogue Mostly, I have to say that I’m impressed with both of us that we’re able to talk about something this complicated without losing our tempers Me, too… I suppose we should pat ourselves on the back…

72 Sex Dialogue Silence What are you thinking? I’m thinking that things have gotten a little weird with Richard and I’m not sure what to do… How so?

73 Sex Dialogue He’s been different this last week… things are not quite the same…

74 Pot Dialogue I’m not happy to tell you this, but I was in your room while you were at school and found a bag of weed. Why were you in my room? I was actually cleaning things out You shouldn’t go into my room when I’m not there! I’ve told you this!

75 Pot Dialogue We can discuss the issue of privacy later, but I believe what we need to discuss at this point is the fact that you’re still smoking weed, even after all of the trouble you’ve gotten into I wouldn’t get into trouble if they would legalize it—you know that soon it’s going to be legal everywhere, don’t you?

76 Pot Dialogue Well, it may or it may not be legal one day, but right now it’s not—and I don’t want this to turn into a discussion of our legal system Why not? It’s all so hypocritical! Weed is so much safer than alcohol. Nobody ever dies from pot, so why is weed illegal and alcohol isn’t?

77 Pot Dialogue I am interested in your thoughts on this matter at some point, but, as I said, I would like to talk to you about the choices you are making, not about the fairness of our justice system No you don’t—you don’t want to talk to me about the choices I am making, you just want me to make different choices!

78 Pot Dialogue Is there a way that we could have this discussion without you thinking that I’m trying to change who you are? Yeah—by not having it! Is there a way that we could have this discussion without you thinking that I’m trying to change who you are?

79 Pot Dialogue Silence I would really like to know more about why you smoke weed…we’ve established the fact that I don’t think you should and you think it’s perfectly okay, but I’ve never taken the time to find out what appeals to you about it.

80 Pot Dialogue You really want to know? Yes, I really want to know Silence Yes, I really want to know Ever since I started smoking weed, I don’t worry as much How does that work?

81 Pot Dialogue I just feel like a weight has been lifted off of me…like I’m okay just being me…I don’t have to do anything, I don’t have to be anything…I’m just me when I’m high It must be a tremendous burden to feel like it’s not okay to be you Yeah…

82 Pot Dialogue When did you first start feeling like it wasn’t okay to be you? (Pauses…) Middle school, I guess…I guess at the end of middle school, like 8 th grade And what was that like? It sucked…it really sucked…

83 Pot Dialogue Would you be willing to tell me when you first tried weed? (Pauses)…9 th grade… And how did it feel when you tried it? The first couple of times, not much…but then I tried it once and it was this great feeling, like I was okay again

84 Pot Dialogue What a relief that must have been…to feel like you were “okay again” Yeah…yeah… So do you ever feel “okay” when you’re not high? Silence Do you worry that you need to be high to feel okay?

85 Pot Dialogue I don’t know what I’d do without it…but that doesn’t mean I’m addicted, you know…you can’t get addicted to weed. I’m not interested in evaluating you, I’m interested in your experience…what do you think you’d do without it? I don’t know…I’ve actually tried to go without it at times

86 Pot Dialogue And what happens then? I start to miss it…I start to feel like I want that “okay feeling” again…do you know what it’s like to not feel okay? I believe I do You do? Because you certainly don’t act like you do, you always act like you know what you’re doing, like everything is fine

87 Pot Dialogue I know enough to know it’s not very pleasant…I know enough to know that it’s hard work getting to the place where you feel like you’re okay just being yourself…I’m actually still working on it I don’t think I’m very good at it Maybe you haven’t given yourself enough of a chance

88 Pot Dialogue Maybe I don’t deserve a chance… How did you come to the conclusion that you don’t deserve a chance? I don’t know, I don’t know…now I don’t know what to do That’s always a tough spot to be in…

89 Pot Dialogue This is when I feel like getting high…right now!

90 Alcohol Dialogue Although I doubt that you want to, it’s time for us to talk about what happened last night on Saturday night I knew it…here comes the lecture…go ahead, lay it on me… I know that I am prone to lecturing, but I am really hoping that we can talk about it a little differently this time

91 Alcohol Dialogue Let’s not…why don’t you just tell me what a terrible daughter I am and get it over with? Is that what you think I think of you? Oh, come on, Dad….What else would you think when your darling daughter is dropped off on your front yard, vomiting, at 3 a.m.? That she’s an angel?

92 Alcohol Dialogue That did really upset me, but that doesn’t mean I think that you’re terrible Well maybe you ought to think again You mean you think you’re terrible? I must be! Why else would I fuck up over and over again?

93 Alcohol Dialogue Maybe that’s what we ought to try to figure out together What’s there to figure out? I’m a fuck-up! What kind of girl gets so drunk at a party that she’s puking all over herself? And, as you are always the first to remind me, this wasn’t the first time…it’s happened before…

94 Alcohol Dialogue You seem so convinced… Convinced of what? That you’re a fuck-up… Well, I am, aren’t I? Why don’t you just come out and say it? Go ahead, it would make you feel better! It would make me feel better!

95 Alcohol Dialogue I don’t appear to have to say anything about how awful you are, you seem to be doing plenty of that yourself… Well, at least I’m good at something! I would suggest that you’re good at many things besides that

96 Alcohol Dialogue Okay, and now here comes the pep talk! I’m smart, I’m pretty, I’ve got a good personality…I’ll just fill in the blanks and save you the time…meanwhile, I’ve humiliated myself again…do you realize I had to be carried out of Courtney’s house? Do you realize that Jason’s car has puke all over the back seat? My puke? Your lovely daughter’s puke?

97 Alcohol Dialogue And so what’s your conclusion? My conclusion? How many times do I have to say it? I’m a slut, a piece of shit. Look, can we just end this stupid conversation? Just ground me, take away my phone, take away my laptop…you know, the usual…just let me know how long it’s going to be for so I can let my friends know…

98 Alcohol Dialogue I’m actually not up to the “consequences” phase of this conversation yet Well, what are you waiting for? Isn’t that where it’s going to end up anyway? C’mon, Dad, just cut to the chase already…

99 Alcohol Dialogue Well, you are correct, there will be consequences. But, let’s face it, I’ve been imposing consequences for months now, and, as you’ve said, nothing really seems to be changing.

100 Alcohol Dialogue Exactly! I’m hopeless! I don’t quite see it that way. It seems a little premature to decide that a 16 year old is hopeless Well, then, where’s the hope? Maybe the hope can be found by putting our heads together to try to figure out why you do what you do…

101 Alcohol Dialogue Oh, that’ll work… Well, have you tried it on your own? Tried what? Tried to figure out why you do what you do? Yeah, because I’m a fuck-up! We’ve been over this! Hard to believe it’s that simple…

102 Alcohol Dialogue Maybe it is… Maybe…maybe not…all of us screw up, and sometimes we screw up over and over again…that doesn’t mean we’re hopeless What does it mean? It usually means we’re trying to figure something out…but going about it the wrong way

103 Alcohol Dialogue What am I trying to figure out? Well, I’m not sure. You’re the only one who knows. But you might be more likely to figure things out if you saw yourself as someone who’s trying to figure things out, rather than as a terrible daughter… Silence

104 Alcohol Dialogue What’re you thinking? Silence Do you know what’s going through your head? Weird stuff’s going through my head…weird stuff… Anything that you’re able to tell me?

105 Alcohol Dialogue I don’t know…I don’t know… It’s obviously up to you to decide what to say and what not to say to me…but it’s probably a good sign that some “weird stuff” is going through you head… Why is that good? You’re starting to sound a little weird yourself…

106 Alcohol Dialogue Because it tells me that maybe you’re beginning to think about things differently, rather than just believe that there’s something wrong with you… Oh, there’s something wrong with me, alright…Listen, I’m not the person you think I am…

107 Alcohol Dialogue Did you want to give me a chance to get to know the person you really are? Don’t think so… Did you want to give yourself a chance to get to know the person you really are? (Long Pause) I think I spend all my time trying not to get to know the person I really am…

108 Alcohol Dialogue Join the club… You, too?!? All of us run from who we really are…or from who we think we really are…or from who we fear we really are… Really? Sure…sometimes it’s the scariest thing in the world to get to know yourself…

109 Alcohol Dialogue Why is it so scary? I’m not sure…I guess we all have some secrets, some things we’re ashamed of or hate about ourselves…I know I do, that’s for certain…

110 Alcohol Dialogue How do you deal with it? Sometimes pretty well, sometimes not so well…but as you get older, it does get a little easier to be in your own skin…maybe it’s just experience, who knows? (Long Pause) Why am I even here?

111 Alcohol Dialogue That’s an awfully important question to ask…I have to say, I’m glad you’re asking it…I wish more people would ask it… But how do I answer it? I honestly don’t even know what I’m doing here sometimes… I have the sense you haven’t really given yourself a chance to ask yourself that question, let alone answer it…

112 Alcohol Dialogue Ughhh…I hate feeling like this… …and when you hate what you’re feeling, what do you feel like doing? What do you mean? When you don’t like what you’re feeling, what do you find yourself wanting to do? (Long Pause)

113 Alcohol Dialogue Getting so drunk I can’t even see straight, that’s what…

114 Ambition Dialogue I was looking over the schedule that you’ve mapped out for senior year, and I see that you want to take 5 AP classes Yep, that’s right How did you make the decision to take on 5 AP classes?

115 Ambition Dialogue Wasn’t that hard—most of my friends are doing it, too. And that’s what you gotta do if you wanna get where you wanna go And where do you want to go? The best college I can get into—and the more AP classes they see, the better…that’s what our guidance counselor told us…you were there, you heard that, too…

116 Ambition Dialogue I have to say I’m always impressed with how ambitious you are, and I’m of course not surprised that you’re making plans for your future, you’ve always been that way. But I do want to talk with you about your scheduling decision What is there to talk about?

117 Ambition Dialogue What I want to talk about is the fact that you appear to be struggling with the 2 AP classes that you are currently taking. No I’m not. Just because I’m not getting A’s doesn’t mean that I’m struggling I’m not focusing on your grades, though. I’m noticing how overworked and unhappy you are

118 Ambition Dialogue I don’t know anyone who can be happy doing 6 hours of homework a night I would definitely agree with you on that. But what you are telling me is that you’re already overworked with just 2 AP classes, and now you’re planning on taking 5 next year. How do you imagine you’ll make that work?

119 Ambition Dialogue I don’t know, I just will… You might…but I’m talking to you about this because I’m concerned about the price that you will pay by signing up for such a demanding schedule And what about the price that I’ll pay if I don’t?

120 Ambition Dialogue Well, what is the price you pay if you don’t? Whaddya think? I don’t wind up at a top- notch college. And if you don’t? I don’t even want to think about that! That’s what I’m aiming for, that’s what I’ve gotta do…and that’s that!

121 Ambition Dialogue I can see that it makes you uncomfortable to “think about that”, but I believe that it’s important to “think about that” just the same. So go back to my question—from your perspective, what is the “price you pay” for not going to a top notch college? Silence

122 Ambition Dialogue Your silence makes me wonder if you’ve given yourself the chance to think much about this… Silence What’s going through your head? Silence

123 Ambition Dialogue I’m not inside of you, but my guess is that you have some catastrophic outcome in mind if you don’t get into the best college—and I don’t know if you’ve given yourself the opportunity to look at this issue realistically Oh, so you’re saying you don’t think I can get into a good college? Is that what you’re saying?

124 Ambition Dialogue Actually, I have no idea what college you’re going to get into, although I believe that you’ll do very well when you get to whatever college you wind up going to. What does that mean, “whatever college I wind up going to”? You don’t think I can get into a good college, do you?

125 Ambition Dialogue I will say what I said before—I have no idea where you’ll wind up going to college, but I believe you’ll get into a fine college, and I believe you’ll do well in college. But what I’m asking you to do right now is not to think about college, but to think about your life and how you want to live it. I wonder if you ever give yourself the chance to do that.

126 Ambition Dialogue Who has the time to “wonder”? That’s a fair question to ask, busy as you are with all that you do. But if you don’t have the time now to think about who you are and who you want to become, I don’t think you’ll have the time next year when you’re taking so many more tough classes.

127 Ambition Dialogue Yeah, right…like you know…things are different now… They are, I agree. And I am not telling you that you should or shouldn’t take 5 AP classes or where you should go to college. I am telling you that I believe that it’s important for you to pay close attention to the expectations that you have for yourself, and to figure out how realistic they are

128 Ambition Dialogue What will my friends think if I’m not taking all of my classes with them? I’m not sure—what do you think they’ll think? Actually, I know what they’ll think—they’ll think I’m a loser. With a capital “L”. Really?

129 Ambition Dialogue Yeah, really… How much will that matter to you? A whole lot, really…who wants to be left out? So you’ll be unhappy being seen that way? Yeah

130 Ambition Dialogue But you also seem unhappy now. You’re always in your room, you rarely smile, you’re always complaining about how much work you have to do… Because there’s so much to do!! Because it never ends!! Which is why I’m wondering why you’re signing up for an even more demanding schedule next year

131 Ambition Dialogue I don’t know, I don’t know…sometimes I don’t even know why I bother Bother doing what? Bother trying… You’re feeling hopeless? Why wouldn’t I? There’s no hope…

132 Ambition Dialogue I guess it depends on what you’re hoping for. If you’re hoping to become someone different than you are, you’re right, I guess it is kind of hopeless—we are who we are. But maybe if you spent a little more time being “who you are” rather than “who you should be”, you wouldn’t feel so hopeless…

133 Ambition Dialogue But the person I am is the person who should be taking the toughest courses available…that’s what I was told. Or, the person you are is the person who recognizes that taking the toughest courses available is not necessarily in your best interest. Which is why you’re so unhappy right now. Pretty hard to be happy when you can’t be yourself.

134 Ambition Dialogue (Long Pause) There’s no way out of this… I believe there is…but not if you insist on being who everyone else wants you to be rather than on who you are. Is it really so terrible if too many AP classes at one time is overwhelming? Is that so awful? It sure feels that way

135 Ambition Dialogue And who decided that you must feel that way? I don’t even know anymore. I don’t know why I feel that way. Thinking about that question is probably more important than trying to cram in as many AP classes as you can because someone has convinced you that that’s best…

136 Ambition Dialogue Really? Really… This sucks… It does…this is the biggest battle that people face, deciding who they are and who they aren’t. But it’s an important battle to fight. I’m proud of you for going into battle.

137 Ambition Dialogue I wish I could be proud of myself…

138 Some Final Thoughts….

139 Constrictive vs. Constructive Criticism Whatever it is that we need…

140 Constrictive Criticism Whatever it is that we need… It’s definitely not more criticism

141 Trust

142 It’s All in The Delivery As children grow, it’s not ultimately what you say, but how you say it, and how well you listen, that determines your influence and conveys your love

143 The Question… How long do you plan to…?

144 Dealing with Disrespect

145 The Power of the Written Word

146 Keep the Emphasis on… Transforming vs. Performing

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