Heading Back-to-School with a Family Business Plan
By: Jenn Wint
Managing family transitions from summer through back to school any year can be tough. This year heading back-to-school and for many parents, back-to-work, during an ongoing pandemic brings a whole new level of anxiety for all family members. Anticipating these upcoming transitions I spoke with Danielle Bettmann, an early childhood educator, parenting coach, hosting of the Failing Motherhood podcast and founder of Wholeheartedly. Danielle coaches families with strong-willed kids and unbalanced parenting dynamics to find strategies for a happy home. Mom to two young girls herself, she offers a blend of lived experience and educational training and was able to share some tangible tactics and tips for preparing our kids and ourselves for the coming months. I love the way she encourages parents to involve their kids in family planning and expectation management through her Family Business Plan. Here’s the advice Danielle shared on everything from disciple, positive parenting dynamics and heading back-to-school in the “new normal.”
Family dynamics are a huge part of parenting. What’s the best way to get everyone on the same page?
First, recognize that all family members have the same goal of a safe, happy household. Even if there are different approaches to a parenting decision or method of doing something, you’re all likely on the same page, working towards the same outcome. Planning ahead is key. You’re always going to have more cooperation and more buy-in from your kids and partner when you’re working preventatively and not in the moment. Having regular conversations with your partner and then as a family ahead of big transitions or life events can help you decide as a team how you’ll manage routines, chores, plans and consequences. Making family agreements and sharing expectations on a weekly basis can prevent a lot of frustration in the moment.
Why is it so important to get on the same page as your spouse?
A shared approach to parenting and intentionally raising children as a team requires working together, making joint decisions and supporting one another. It also involves listening and valuing the lived experience and opinions of your spouse.
Showing support for your partner teaches kids how relationships work. We demonstrate to our kids how to interact with us by how we engage with our partner. If they see respect being shown, they will show it. It is normal for parents to disagree but be aware that the way you handle issues and share ideas is modeling respect, conflict and resolution.
How can a good cop/bad cop parenting dynamic affect your parenting?
Kids should believe that parents are on the same team and will support one another. If your partner agrees to a cookie and ice cream after dinner, even if you would have said no, support that decision in that moment and discuss it later. Raising this disagreement in front of your kids diminishes credibility and promotes the good cop/ bad cop dynamic. Wherever possible, discuss decisions ahead of time to be ready for common demands. Establish family agreements you can refer to that bring decisions back to those made as a group. Be consistent and support one another wherever possible. Perfect parenting isn’t the goal, but progress is.
You say you offer solutions and sanity. How do you do this?
I teach my clients 5 S’s.
- Solutions (and strategies).
- Sanity (mindset shifts that extend your patience).
- Same Page (creating a Family Business Plan)
- Secure Relationships (healing and prioritizing the parent child connection)
- Support (accountability and feedback that gets things to implementation stage)
For solutions I implement this framework through regular coaching sessions, ongoing feedback through an app and having a resource library to work through. Solutions come from individualized problem solving by looking at real life examples and making practical changes that work for each unique family.
For sanity I have a triggers workbook as a way for parents to gain awareness of everything limiting their capacity to be patient. We look at what makes their mind and body react at a heightened level and how to tell themselves new stories that shift perspective enough to access strategies they’ve learned and react differently to triggers.
How can you help your child manage their big emotions?
Toddlers and young kids have a gap between their receptive and expressive language abilities. They’re making sense of complex relationship issues and often feeling out of control of their own life. Struggling to have words to describe these feelings is overwhelming especially if they’re overtired or hungry. Teaching kids emotional literacy, what emotions feel and look like, is as important as counting and colors. I recommend this teaching is done through reading books. Stories shows what it looks like for characters to feel excited or be mad and then model different coping strategies.
Managing big emotions is a marathon and takes longer than most parents think. Tantrums are developmentally appropriate and emotions are like a muscle, needing repetition to train. The best way you can teach emotional control is to model it yourself.
How can parents having big emotions, manage those?
Parents have big feelings too. Sometimes we feel like we shouldn’t, but we do. Listen to your own needs and respond as much as you can to give yourself what you need, in addition to kindness. As with young kids, emotions are a muscle and the appropriate response to overwhelm or frustration takes practice. It’s ok to show emotion but think as you’d like your toddler to think and name your feelings, take a deep breath and react accordingly. It is always ok to take a few minutes alone to decompress. Use your big emotions as teaching moments to explain you feel overwhelmed and need to take a break. Describe your own emotions and reactions to demonstrate regulation.
What matters most when coming out of this pandemic and returning to a “new normal”?
Open, honest communication should be a top priority as we move through these transitions. Intentionally having conversations where you, the parent, bring up feeling scared or uncertain about going back to school can be very helpful. If you’re returning to an office, share your own uncertainties while assuring your child that you will both be safe and are taking appropriate precautions. Relate to their anxieties or fear and share stories around hesitation and successes about your own new school years. Hold space for kids to share how their day went or how they’re feeling, knowing they’re most likely feeling uncertain after the year they’ve just been through. You don’t have to solve their problems, just let them know it’s ok to feel that way.
How can we ease this transition back to school and work?
Plan ahead. Talk through schedules and expectations highlighting elements that will be consistent with past years. Focus on things kids will be in control of such as a lunch choice, route to school or backpack. For anxious kids, offer to swap something of yours with them to take to school like a bracelet or hair elastic they can keep in their pocket to know you’re thinking of them. I recommend books like The Kissing Hand and The Invisible String as tools to facilitate these discussions.
I’ve heard the phrase: My child isn’t giving me a hard time; they’re having a hard time. Do you agree?
I do. This quote demonstrates a lot of empathy. It reminds us not to take things personally and asks us to check our judgement. I talk to my kids about this when their having issues with friends too. Understanding kids are not intentionally being difficult is a good reminder as your child’s behaviour is most often not about you. And when someone isn’t kind to our child, we can remind them that person might be having a hard time and the reaction wasn’t caused by them. This quote brings that understanding to the forefront. Everyone has stuff going on under the surface, even kids.
What is a family business plan?
The family business plan was modeled after creating the business plan for Wholeheartedly, my company. I realized that so much of the intentionality we bring to the work world, all the beautiful structure around leadership, could work so well if you view a family as an organization. Consider parents the leaders and the kids as “employees.” All the things that motivate and encourage a healthy work culture through teamwork and communication are so relevant to family operations. A vision and a mission you’re working towards together can apply to parenting, which is essentially management of people. The family business plan involves hashing out conversations between parenting partners that establish core values as a family. This includes the ways you spend your time and money and what your family identity and culture looks like. Your norms and values will be different from neighbours and friends and that’s good. The plan clarifies goals, asking ‘what will matter 18 years from now?’ Being able to put goals and values on paper and get clear on your identity through a written family mission statement allows strong communication of expectations and a healthy sense of belonging and teamwork. Parents get the opportunity to check their leadership skills to ensure they’re inspiring and motivating, not micro-managing!
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