Cautionary Tale: Fast Fixes for Parenting Challenges Will Make Your Parenting HarderJan 23, 2023
Note: The transcript below may not be exactly the same as the podcast and has not been edited for accuracy
So before founding Raising Resilient Children I owned an outdoor and play based preschool. In that role I answered a lot of questions. Questions from friends, questions from clients, questions from the friends of clients. Many people said to me, you need to be doing something so much bigger than what you’re doing now, you are meant to have an impact on the world. I’ve always felt that by teaching children I was impacting the world, but I now fully realize what they meant.
My plan before the world closed in March 2020 was that I would slowly phase out my preschool and slowly phase into parent consulting. That’s not how it went down. In the blink of an eye those plans went out the window and the pivot started. I’m grateful to my clients at the time and some of my grads who came back into my world and kept me going!! Having the opportunity to run some social emotional programs with kids was such an important part of this journey and I’m grateful that it gave them something to look forward to during an otherwise difficult time.
Now here’s the important part of today’s story, as part of this new pivot plan I became team of 1. This wasn’t my original plan for shifting to consulting. A slow phase out of my preschool and slow phase in of consulting was the actual plan. Hiring experts in marketing, web design and so on. That was the plan.
I’m not gonna lie, I was stuck for a long time in being disappointed that this plan didn’t happen. That my road to building this brand could have been easier or at least more seamless. But now I realize, this was how it was meant to play out, because although I’m confident that hiring those people would have fast-tracked almost everything… I wouldn’t have learned some really important lessons about why parents are struggling and how I’m totally different than other experts in this very over-crowded space where anyone can call themselves an expert and there is no real accountability.
I have this problem, I’ve always had it. I’m honest to a fault and I struggle deeply with misleading people. Funny how being honest can be problematic, but it really can be.
From the day I launched this business I have been given the same advice over and over. You need to give people a fast fix, a quick win. You need to create a lead magnet that draws them into your world and gets them wanting to more. You need to make sure you don’t overwhelm people. You need to tackle their pain points with targeted solutions… that again, will give them a chance quick win.
If half of this sounds like jargon, it is. It’s marketing jargon and you’re being exposed to it every single day.
On my side I said to every single person with this advice. There is no fast fix. I can’t provide solutions to families with no context. Parenting isn’t a cookie cutter, how am I suppose to do that??
They replied. You’ll get better at it. You need to try. You need to show up and do it. You need to find a way. Tell them what they want to hear, knowing what they actually need is different… I’m sure you get the idea. The underlying message was clear. You need to lie, you need to make promises that you will fulfill when they buy, you need to dangle the carrot just enough so they bite.
Well, I’m a couple years into this now and, I never found the right things to say. I never found the right carrot. I never made promises I couldn’t follow through on. I know I lost potential clients and followers because I didn’t have quick wins that have become TikTok and insta famous. Here’s what I found. I found my authenticity. I’ve come full circle. I’m back to where I wanted to be when I launched this business, but now I understand something I didn’t understand before. I understand marketing. I understand what a pain point is. I understand what a lead magnet is. I understand false hope. You know why I understand these things? Because I had to. And, I also got screwed by them too. Building this brand. Watching my competitors. Listening to gurus and so-called experts. I fell down a couple funnels of people who did not care about me or my business, they didn’t even visit my website or read my lead magnet. They didn’t care. I was a paying client. Not a person who’s entire existence was riding on the line.
You might be wondering what’s a funnel and why am I talking about this on a podcast about raising resilient children and parenting? Because what I’ve discovered is, parenting advice, like most things, are driven by funnels. The layers imbedded into the advice are almost impossible to sort through. Some marketing experts will try to make you feel better by telling you that you’re selling the solution to the problem people don’t know they have. And although I do believe this is true, the solution to a lot of problems we experience is finding the right expert, not the expert with the best business knowledge or marketing team.
We like to buy solutions to our problems, here’s my cautionary tale. Don’t buy the solutions to parenting challenges that are promising a quick win. They don’t last because they aren’t tackling the underlying problem, missing skill or challenge. It’s a bandaid when you actually need stitches. Behaviour, habits and social emotional skills are all things that require commitment, consistency and a bit of practice and patience. And here’s the kicker, sometimes even that won’t be enough because sometimes… feelings are larger than life and we have unrealistic expectations that every moment should be special and perfect and every feeling can be carefully guided into a socially acceptable response. These things are possible, but not for young children and definitely not after doing something once or twice.
This is why I feel so passionate about telling you about this and why I wanted to dedicate an entire conversation to it. A lot of the parents who come through my virtual door say similar things… I tried xyz and it didn’t work, I followed abc and I actually think we are worse off now… I spent $$$ on this and now my partner and I are fighting over parenting more than ever.
Behaviour is not a cookie cutter, social emotional skills are not magic and it’s not really about that one thing you say or don’t say… it’s about the things you say as a whole and the things you do as a whole. For example, do you say I’m proud of you and also say, what about this picture makes you proud? It’s not one or the other, it’s both.
I know people open their phones and see those posts saying don’t say this, don’t do that, instead of this, do that… but it’s so nuanced and a lot of the time what I’ve come to realize is that it’s not about this or that at all. It’s actually about the bigger picture and the process involved.
It’s funny when I set out to create my program in the very very beginning I didn’t set out with the intention of fixing problems or doing crisis management. Sure I do have some experience in this, but my focus was on creating something that’s more about skill building and developing an understanding of behaviour for people who don’t have any background or experience here or maybe the experience is limited to their own childhood.
Like a prenatal course, but for parents of preschoolers through elementary and beyond. The goal of the program wasn’t meant to be about hitting a wall and seeking help, the program was intended to provide some useful guidance for understanding what makes kids operate, how behaviour works and how to effectively build skills for the thing most people didn’t learn growing up but absolutely need to know to show up as the parent they are trying to be - social emotional skills or SEL. These skills can absolutely help parents and educators who are struggling with bigger challenges, it’s a great foundation for everyone, but my original goal was to answer that statement I’ve heard so many times… why don’t kids come with a manual. Well the answer is, every child is different and unique so it’s impossible to have one manual BUT what my program guides you with doing is creating the manual that works for you. Curious to learn more head over to my website at taragratto.ca/BRTK or click the link in the show notes.
There’s another part of this marketing puzzle I want to talk about… and that’s the idea that it’s not always sharing advice that is preparing children with skills and tools for the real world and in many cases not even for your own home where multiple people are co-existing. I also think, no, I know… it’s exhausting parents and creating over-present relationships that don’t make space for independent skill building and navigating uncomfortable feelings. Basically it’s doing the opposite of raising resilient children. And I don’t think this is actually the messaging intent, but in the quest to make a point (although it might be valid), or to sell a thing… the nuance gets completely lost.
We live in a world of short attention spans and we want solutions to every problem and we typically want them yesterday. So we take the fast fix, we read the post that resonates or seek the person who will affirm they are doing it too to make us feel better about our choices. We are also exhausted and many of us are trying to parent a new way which is leading to information overload and people calling themselves an expert when they are not. There is a careful balance between expertise and experience that needs to be struck when we are talking about children, child development and parenting. If you didn’t catch my last Episode: #28 The Role of Routine Resets to Ease Parenting Overwhelm, this is very much a continuation of ideas I brought up there.
So yes, I do believe we change the world through our children, but I also think some, maybe a lot, of the parenting advice I see on social media forgets that not only do we co-exist in our home spaces, but as an extension of that, many of us rely on daycare and school as an instrumental part of our parenting community. I became acutely aware of this fact when I owned a preschool. I was not just a place children came to play and be cared for, I was a key part of each family’s ability to function and I played an essential role in their child’s development and most of the families relied on me for this piece. We can’t overlook this fact when seeking out parenting advice. Because even with all my experience and expertise at times it was really hard to be one adult attending to the needs of many children simultaneously. This is ultimately the foundation for my signature framework the Language of Kindness. It’s also why I adopted an approach of partnership and where the whole idea for Raising Resilient Children came from. When parents are empowered with skills and tools for social emotional development, everyone’s life benefits. You, your child and the communities they belong to. This parent piece is important. I have another episode in the works about the misunderstandings surrounding what educators and daycare providers are capable of in terms of their knowledge and expertise in behaviour because we need to bridge this relationship gap, but today we are focussing on why parenting advice that neglects the community factor isn’t servicing you in the big picture.
Parenting isn’t easy and perhaps one of the hardest pieces is making space for things that make us uncomfortable. And yes I’m calling out some of the biggest movements in parenting because raising resilient children is a balance of fostering skills for independence and for co-existence. The cookie cutter approach to SEL without nuance, parenting advice built around quick fixes and messaging that supports a need for over-present adults to problem solve everything is creating situations where children are struggling in social environments and ultimately in life.
My educator friends and my personal experience highlight that routine things have become particularly tricky. Things like sharing, waiting our turn, listening to a story, not getting what we want, being okay with being bored, and failing without fixing… I have a saying about social emotional development and children. Are you your child’s guide with tools or are you their tool? It’s an important thing to think about. I have this saying because I was called out by someone I deeply respect who observing me with one of my children when they were young. They asked why I parented differently than the way I showed up for other kids the same age. Every teacher knows its way harder to teach your children than others, but the point was well taken. I was doing something that I ensure I don’t do to promote the life success of others… with my child.
I just saw a post today about how young children cannot share. There is a ton of nuance to that statement, an entire podcast episode worth, but what’s the takeaway for a social media post like that, my child doesn’t have to share because they can’t. It’s not that simple and it varies greatly by age and stage, even within a single group of children. After working with preschoolers for 7.5 years, they can in fact share but, it takes a great deal of effort to set up systems of give and take that involve being accountable and looping back when someone asks you for something and then patiently waiting for it and so on. This is a lot different than children should be forced to immediately give their peer or sibling a toy because that’s what’s defined as sharing. It comes down to what you define as sharing and you’re understanding of sharing as a process of skill building. Simply saying young children can’t share because their brains don’t understand it is not helping you understand that there’s an important process that needs to happen and it takes time and guidance. The reality is, many children co-exist in spaces where they do in fact need to share and there’s layers to that process. That nuance is critical when it comes to our reliance on communities that support our parenting journey.
So where am I going with all of this? Almost everything you do in parenting is about process and nuance and behaviour has layers. Although I do appreciate how social media is bringing forward ideas about places we need to make changes and the importance of rethinking things, it’s also promoting unrealistic expectations, reinforcing incorrect methods and ultimately it’s likely making your parenting much harder in the big picture because it’s not tackling the root of your challenge or getting under the surface of a situation… it’s giving you a quick fix or a quick guilt trip… often the latter for most of the people I speak to.
There’s one final layer to the marketing puzzle that I want to bring up in this conversation and I think this is the one that might resonate deeply. I’ve noticed posts are often designed to trigger your inner child, to get you thinking about how you felt and how you would never want your child to feel that way. Something I like to say to parents who have been following this kind of advice. The problem is not how we felt about things, the problem is we were not allowed to express how we felt or we were not given tools for how we were feeling. This reframe of thinking can help guide you with understanding that boundaries, limits and saying things like no are super important but, the truth is these will also potentially lead to big reactions because we no longer say things like… crying is for babies, real men don’t cry, suck it up buttercup… So the problem isn’t always about how you felt… the problem is about not being able to express your feelings. I have also seen how this advice actually does the opposite effect. The truth is, you don’t need to show up as the parent you needed as a child, you need to parent the child you have. And although it’s very tempting to see ourselves in our children… they are not us. They are unique.
In the end, why am I talking about this? Because awareness is key. We are all part of marketing culture and we can’t get away from it, but I am trying to be mindful of the education piece of this because ultimately my goal is support you with tools and skills to make informed choices and decisions in your parenting. So many of the people I speak to fall down rabbit holes without realizing its happening. I know because I fall down them too, maybe not always with parenting, but I sure fell hard with my business and it gave me a whole new perspective on social media and the world of marketing as it relates to parents.
So as part of this commitment it won’t surprise you that I’m going to start doing things differently and I’ll be going against the advice I’ve been given and hoping that this will resonate with you and you’ll find it helpful. In the Fall I rebuilt my signature program Building Resilience Through Kindness so that it is accessible on-demand but with the live support people have come to know and love and let’s be honest, it’s the accountability most of us need to keep focussed on hard tasks.
As part of this revamping, I also made a massive change that’s goes against mainstream marketing advice. My program takes 12 weeks. Here’s an example of where I let my authenticity waver because I let marketing and competitor mindset creep in… It’s actually always been a 12 week program that I squeezed into 6 because a lot of people told me it will never sell if I didn’t make it 6. Now I will also add, they also suggested I actually make it 6 weeks of content. This is where my brain doesn’t work the way marketing people want it to. I can’t give you half the story. It’s a framework. One that’s taken me 10 years to develop. 7.5 years of implementing in my preschool and supporting the families within it and then another 2.5 making it something families can do without me teaching their children. All the pieces interconnect. They build into and on top of each other. It’s a program. It’s not a course, it’s not a quick fix, it’s a system that works and works really well. And here’s the most important part. It’s not a cookie cutter.
I know it changes lives and something I acknowledge is that it’s also work. That’s the other thing I’m not suppose to say, or be cautious about saying.
But the truth is behavioural changes takes time, commitment and patience. Quick wins are awesome, but they don’t last and often you land yourself two steps back from where you started. My program has been 6 weeks since it launched. It’s something I’ve never felt amazing about. What can you learn in 6 weeks? How do you bring about real lasting behavioural change in 6 weeks? You can’t. So every single session I offered some kind of on-going support option, some kind of continuing learning. After the summer session I developed a membership group because parenting is a journey, not a destination. When you do the kind of work like you do in my program, you want that work to last… not fizzle back to old habits. You see our brains love the path of least resistance so we revert pretty quickly.
So here’s to 2023, a year where I’m going to show up with big picture conversations, real time takes and at times challenge the status quo.
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