2011-10-20 / Schools
Los Cerritos panel shares words of wisdom with middle school parents
Be a coach not a manager, one expert says
Listen more, say less as your children enter adolescence.
That’s the advice Risa Gruberger, marriage and family therapist at the Ludington Institute for Family Enrichment in Westlake Village, gave parents at a panel discussion on parenting middle school children last week.
The event, hosted on Oct. 12 by Los Cerritos Middle School in Thousand Oaks, was open to all elementary and middle school parents.
Panelists in addition to Gruberger were Eilene Green, educational consultant and coordinator of the Parenting Department at Conejo Valley Adult Education School in T.O.; Dr. Bruce Pendleberry, practitioner of oriental and homeopathic medicine in T. O.; and Gail Small, a teacher and the author of “Joyful Parenting.”
Gruberger said it’s appropriate to manage kids until they reach their teens. Then, she suggests, parents should switch from being managers to coaches.
“ You want to give direct ion without creating resentment,” said Gruberger, quoting famed basketball coach John Wooden. “Coaches guide, they don’t demand.”
“(Taking on) a managerial role with teens doesn’t match their developing brain,” the therapist said.
Green pointed out that a teenager’s brain is still under construction. Self-control, judgment, emotions and organization continue to develop well into a person’s mid-20s, she said.
“The teen brain relies more on emotion and less on judgment,” Green said.
“Teens are supposed to be a little depressed and a little anxious,” she said. “But it isn’t who they are.”
The therapist advised parents to take note of the frequency and intensity of low moods.
“If a child is sad more often than not, pay attention to that,” she said. Whatever they’re feeling is treatable, she added.
Food cravings are related to emotions, Pendleberry said. And children’s eating habits affect their nutrition as adults.
“I always tell patients, what you do now is the foundation for later on,” the doctor said.
Gruberger told parents to raise their children based on who they are rather than who the parents want them to be.
Small raised a similar point.
“ You need to let children know they are not cookie-cutter kids. Every child is unique and special. Kids need to hear, ‘Be yourself.’”
Gruberger and Small advised parents to take care of themselves despite the attention that kids demand.
“It’s age and developmentally appropriate that they’re narcissistic, but if you make them the center of the world, you’re enhancing and increasing the narcissism,” Gruberger said.
Small said i t ’ s important for parents to find something in common with their children and spend time with them, but she shared Gruberger’s advice for parents.
“Be good to yourself, find something you love,” Small said. “If you take care of you, they’re going to be taken care of.”
Parenthood is the ultimate responsibility, Green said.
“Our job as parents and educators is to create the most exciting environment that (provides) stimulating experiences that will help them to grow,” Green said. “You literally are holding the brain of your children in your hand. That’s a serious task. It’s your choices . . . that are their chances.”
Parent-teacher association vice president Cristy Warner brought the panel to Los Cerritos after having an “ a- ha” moment at a PTA convention last May, she said.
“I was in a room full of professionals sitting in the same type of workshop and everybody could relate to the topic of parenting the middle school child,” Warner said. “I realized (kids are) growing at different rates of speed. Their brain isn’t (wired) like mine.”
Principal Antonio Castro said he frequently hears about feelings of guilt and confusion among parents.
“Middle school parents don’t trust themselves,” Castro said. “And I think parents have to trust themselves as the experts of their children. I hope they will leave here with a sense of empowerment that they understand their children.”
Parent Lili Sullivan, who translated the discussion for Spanish speakers, said she had a tough time with her daughter, now 17, when she was in middle school.
“I wish I had gone to one of these when she was going through middle school. It was really hard for her. Something like this would’ve helped us.”
Tiffany Lascher, whose kids attend Sycamore Canyon, said she appreciated the scope of the discussion.
“( I liked) the ideas about looking at the whole child and considering everything,” she said.
“I thought it was excellent,” said Los Cerritos parent Kim Thompson. “(I learned) it’s okay for teenagers to be moody . . . and you have to stop and listen.”
Warner said the discussion was encouraging.
“I think parents took out of it that they’re on the right track, they’re doing the right thing, that they’ve got some tools if they stray a little bit that they can come back to, that they’re doing the best they can,” she said.
Tips to remember
-Break down big chores into small parts -Encourage middle schoolers to keep a daily list -Be willing to listen; don’t poke or pry -Remind them all friendships have ups and downs -If the issue is minor, keep things light -Don’t use power unless it’s urgent - Remind your middle schooler about important due dates and appointments
Courtesy of amle.org