EPISODE 16: THE STORY ABOUT

Finding the Right Balance

with Dr. Catherine Pearlman

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We have to allow for a little bit of a mourning period, for a little bit of time for everybody to grieve what would have been this year.  And then after that time to be able to move on to finding ways to accomplish our goals.

Jamie
Are you trying to parent and teach at the same time? Today’s guest has some suggestions. I’m Jamie Hipp, and this is Teaching Trailblazers, a show about teachers, artists and leaders in arts integration and STEAM. On this episode, we hear from Dr. Catherine Pearlman, a licensed clinical social worker, the founder of The Family Coach and an associate professor at Brandman University. She’s also the author of Ignore It: How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Issues and Increase Parenting Satisfaction. Welcome, Dr. Pearlman, we’re thrilled to have you on the show.

Catherine
Thanks for having me.

Jamie
Absolutely! So… a lot of our teacher listeners are also parents. I don’t know if we should call them teacher-parents or parent-teachers, but they’re navigating both worlds recently with our current predicament and the current pandemic. What is your most important piece of advice for teachers who are now navigating online learning alongside homeschooling their own kids during this time?

Catherine
I would say the first and most important thing is to prioritize. Things that pre-COVIDmight have been important, at this point, they may not be as important. Um, and it really depends on the individual children you’re teaching and your own children, you know? So for some kids, they still absolutely have to have physical exercise. Um, or they can’t focus on anything. And for other kids, that’s really actually not as important. Um, for some kids, they’re doing great. They read on their own. Maybe they, you know, don’t need to have a full push on that. Whereas for another kid, you know, maybe they’re great at math. We can kind of not worry as much on the extra stuff on math, but really focus on… on reading and ways that make sense for them. So, you know, really, to prioritize and make sure that that we’re not trying to still live up to the same standards we did, you know, a month or two ago when, you know life was typical for us, and I think that relieves a lot of stress and strain of trying toe you know, maintain what was.

Jamie
For sure, and I keep hearing the word balance thrown around by teachers who are also parents. Are there any strategies that teacher moms and teacher dads and teacher caregivers can use to find balance during this, really unprecedented time?

Catherine
I think parents need to find small moments of self-care. We always talk about self-care, and it’s really so important. You know, put the idea of putting the oxygen mask on yourself before you help your children is, is really applicable right now. But we can’t do these massive gestures of self-care. We can’t go for a massage, we can’t meet up with friends, and we can’t do a lot of the things that maybe might have helped us before. And but we still have to schedule that in. And so I recommend to parents, really paying attention to their own emotional state. How are they feeling? How are they doing? How are they managing emotions, their emotions and then find ways to channel that? So for some, that might be just, you know, spending five minutes, making a coffee and sitting quietly and just enjoying that moment. It could be a walk or a bath. It could be a call to a friend or listening to a podcast. But finding some way to you know meet your needs is really, really important. If you live with other people, you might tag team. And so, um, you know, we’re not… not everybody has to wake up in the morning to be with the kids. Maybe one person works late at night and then sleeps in the next morning. That’s how we’ve always done it here and then to try and have a rough schedule for the day that includes some downtime and something fun, even if it’s a short thing. But it’s something that everyone can look forward to.

Jamie
And I love that you brought up this idea of self-care When I asked the previous question about strategies, I thought, and I’m sure a lot of listeners thought that you may have brought up something… strategies specifically for the children in the household or for family time, all together and collectively. I love that we’re bringing in the self-care piece. So, for states that have canceled the remainder of the school year and the list continues to rise, of numbers of states that are out through May, through June. How can teacher-parents get kids, both their own kids and their students, to buy into doing work when these kids know that they’re not returning to school?

Catherine
Yeah, so, um, we have to allow for a little bit of a mourning period for a little bit of time for everybody to grieve what would have been this year, and then after that, time to be able to move on to finding ways to accomplish our goals. And I go back to prioritizing because I really think that you know, everything that students were doing in the classroom, they don’t need to do anymore. We need to think about learning and education in a different way that could meet the needs of kids being at home and parents who’re home and working and some kids with limited technology and limited education of their own parents. So we really have to prioritize – what do we need to get out of the rest of this year? – and do that. And I think finding ways to minimize time on the computer is really important, especially for the younger kids. They’re really staring at their screen trying to do their schoolwork all day. And then I think there are diminishing returns, and especially if that’s over the long haul. So to find ways to do learning offline would be really helpful for certain kids. And then I think we have to be flexible about how the work gets done. You know, for some kids that’s in their pajamas on their bed. For some kids that’s really in the afternoon and for other kids, they’re done in the afternoon… they need to really focus on school first thing in the morning. So you have to know your kid, and you have to put in there some flexibility as a parent and a teacher so that you can leave space for how kids are going to get their work done the best under these difficult circumstances. And then, honestly, to realize that kids are struggling and that it’s gonna come out in weird ways. It may come out in behavior, it may come out in emotions, it may come out in refusing to do work, and we have to find ways to see what’s behind the behavior and meet the kids needs in that way. Otherwise they’re stuck. They can’t go forward. I know a lot of parents whose kids are really refusing to do school, and parents don’t have the tools, just kind of make them, and it’s really a struggle. So that’s when you know parents and teachers are gonna have to work together on being flexible, prioritizing and figuring out really what’s… what has to get done and what can really be let go.

Jamie
I want to go back to behavior in just a moment, but I definitely also want to unpack screen time. I know you said, try to limit the screen time as much as possible. Do you have sort of an age range piece of advice for that up to a certain age, a certain number of minutes? Or is it really a the discretion of the parent? Or maybe if, if the child is not spending as much time on the computer doing work, more time could be allotted. Could you speak to that?

Catherine
Yeah, you know, it’s so tricky because kids are spending so much screen time on just school, you know, they want to talk to their friends, which is on the screen. They wanna relax and watch a show – that’s on a screen. They want to play video games, also with their friends – that’s on the screen. So we we usually say, you know, no more than two hours a day. I mean, we really have to rethink this because we have to give kids time for fun. And for many of them, the only fun they’re going to get right now is being online with their friends. And the only thing I would recommend is to really know your own kids and keep it to the minimum for what works in your house. So, you know, for some young kids, even they’re gonna be on screens a lot, especially if they are two working parents that don’t have flexibility. Or there’s only one parent in the home and multiple children trying to do school. So we have to allow for things… are gonna be a little more up in the air. If they’re going to be on screens, we can be more mindful about what they’re doing on their screens, at least program some of that to be more educational, make sure some of that is fun with their friends and also think about safety like, you know, are they scrolling through YouTube and could be really introduced to all kinds of, um, things that we normally would be watching them to avoid. And you know what is the content? And then it’s good to think of blocks of time for the day and then to have some parts of the day where there is absolutely no screen time. So I really recommend at meals, if possible. Um, you know, we tend to do family movie night, and so we eat in front of the TV a lot, but that works in my house, especially if you have younger kids. This is really a time to reconnect, and I and I say to put the phones and screens down for meals and, um, at bedtime, I have a very strict rule of no screens charging in the room at all. And, um, anybody who has a teenager will know that their kids will fight very strongly. There’s a million reasons why kids absolutely must charge their computers and ipads and phones in their room. None of it is true, and I really recommend giving kids at least that break so that they’re getting a good night’s sleep, and they could be more prepared for the morning.

Jamie
Excellent and important advice to remember. Let’s go back to your thoughts on behavior for just a second. How can you quell bad behavior if you’re a teacher mom or teacher dad, how can you quell bad behavior during a pandemic when many kids are already grounded from, from their lives and the things that they want to do outside and with their friends and in a non-social distancing way?

Catherine
So the first thing is to let go of expectations of what was normal before, and to really have an open mind about what’s acceptable right now. That might be with dress, that might be with table manners, that might be with language or some behavior. Some of that we can just talk up to. “this is our new life, and it’s just not that important.” You know, whether my kids sit still at the table or eats neatly. It’s just not that important right now. We’ve got enough stress and trouble going on, so some of that stuff we can let go. The other thing that I think is really important is to say yes. Say yes more often than you normally would. The problem happens when you say no, and then there’s whining, complaining, and all kinds of tantruming and bad behavior. And then we negotiate or we kind of say yes or you just kind of get worn down and change ourselves. It’s so much better to just say yes up front and it actually feels great. Our kids are capable of so much more than we think they are. You know, they can cook, they can bake. They can make messes and figure out a way to clean it up. Um, so I think this is such a time for parents to open the doors of what we would allow and kids are going to blossom. I mean, I’ve seen in my own house… I’m a person of “No”, I like “no”, I like to say “no.” I like to control what goes on. And, you know, lately, since we’ve been home, it’s… unless it’s dangerous. I’m just “Yes”, it’s yes. Can I take apart your computer? Yes, you can. Because I don’t need it anymore, you know. Can we bake bread? Yes, we can. Can we make something that takes three days? Yes, we can. Yes, to all of these things! Can we make a fort and then just leave it up. Yes. Can we sleep outside? Yes.

Jamie
And have you ever seen your kid or kids more creative than this?

Catherine
Never! Yeah. They’re going to make it work, if we let go of our own barriers and boundaries. I really think that kids are gonna get past the boredom and find something for themselves. So… say yes. Once you say no, that’s when the problems come in. But if you can say yes right from the start, there’s no… the behavior we don’t have to worry about. And then the last thing is, you know, my book is called Ignore It. And basically the whole idea behind it is that behavior that has a reward will be repeated. And unfortunately, parents are reinforcing and rewarding all the wrong behaviors. They’re either reinforcing with their attention or they’re reinforcing it by negotiating. You know… Can I, Can I watch this show? No, but can I just watch five more minutes? Okay, fine. Can I not eat my carrots? No, you have to eat your carrots… You know, it’s like negotiating for everything. We say no to cookies, there’s a tantrum, we’re exhausted, we just say fine. So we’re rewarding all these behaviors. And when we do that, our kids think, wow, this is very effective. I should tantrum and cry and whine and complain more often – it works! And for teenagers, how they get to us is by pushing our buttons. You know, if they can have what they want, they might get obnoxious. And then that gets a reaction out of us. And at least they think, Well, if if I can’t have what I want, then at least you’re mad too. Um so you know, that’s again reinforced thing. So the best thing to do, is if you say no, anything that happens after, no, we can ignore it. So we say, no, there’s no more cookies, we can’t do something. And then the whining, complaining and tantrum and negotiating comes. We can ignore all of that because then we won’t be reinforcing it, and kids will find another way to behave to get what they want to accomplish. At the same token, we have to reward all the good stuff, so it really gets our attention when the kids are acting up. But we forget so much of the time to reward them with our positive attention, our empathy and even tangible rewards for the good stuff. So, for example, every single time my kids take the dog out or empty the dishwasher, I say thank you. I make a note of 100% like being excited every single time. Sure, they should be doing these things because that’s part of living in this house. But they’re gonna feel much more like doing it if I recognize that they’ve done a good job. And so, um, I recommend for parents to, you know, find their kids doing the good. Praise them for sitting nicely doing their homework. Praise them for helping out. Praise him for being nice to a sibling, for taking the garbage out, for whatever it is. Reward the good stuff that will happen more often and ignore some of the negative stuff. And the kids will say this is actually not that effective. I should not do it so you could ignore anything annoying, anything attention-seeking, anything testing, uh, you’ll feel better immediately and behavior will get better.

Jamie
And do you feel like let’s let’s look forward for a moment? Let’s look forward six months, a year. This idea of saying yes, the idea of prioritizing what’s important for your kids and your family. This idea of… of praise and rewards, intrinsic and maybe sometimes extrinsic as well, are these strategies and these things something we can continue doing even past COVID?

Catherine
Oh, I actually think our families are gonna look a lot different when this is done, but the tricky part is to kind of find the right balance where we’re not giving into everything, and it’s a free for all. And then we’re not saying no to absolutely everything. It’s really about finding a balance. But I think Ignore It is an incredible strategy for parents in and out of COVID and, um, you know, being able to say yes, being able to care for ourselves in even small ways so we can be present for our kids…. I think these are really good things to learn, and sometimes we learn the best things out of crisis, and hopefully we can make a change. It’s never too late to make a change. So even during everything that’s going on, if things are going badly, if if it’s, um screen time is out of control or behavior has been really difficult. It’s okay to sit down. It’s okay. What’s not working? What can I change as the parent, so that things can go better? I can’t make my kids change, but I can definitely change myself. And then that can change the entire environment. So it’s not too late. If things aren’t going well.

Jamie
I know every listener will agree that these episodes are way too short, particularly this one. But before we wrap up, where can listeners find out more about your work, your book and, of course, The Family Coach?

Catherine
So they can find my website at thefamilycoach.com and at The Family Coach on Facebook and on Twitter and Ignore It is available on Amazon and in most bookstores.

Jamie
Teaching Trailblazers is a production of the Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM, and I’ve been your host, Jamie Hipp. This podcast is mixed, produced and edited by Jaime Patterson.