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Fall Benefit Luncheon
November 13, 2014 @ 12:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Robin Berman, MD, Wows Audience with Wit and Wisdom – Fall Benefit 2014 By Melanie Wells
“Hate Me Now, Thank Me Later” – Dr. Robin Berman’s UK book title – succinctly captures the message and tone of her very entertaining presentation to a delighted audience at the NYC-Parents in Action Fall Benefit on November 13.
Deceptively comedic, Dr. Berman’s energetic style (and the frequent laughs it drew) actually delivered substantive data and some profound food for thought on what goes into successfully guiding children to confident maturity. In one of her many lively and accessible axioms, Dr. Berman advised parents: “Be an emotional grown-up. You don’t want your children to be so aware of your needs that they have to swallow their own.”
Dr. Berman’s message begins with the parent, not the child. She stressed again and again that parents must sit in the driver’s seat. Quoting children (whose voices are not always included with expert advice) Dr. Berman offered excerpts of interviews with kids who turned out to be strong advocates for her message. According to one: “They [parents] say don’t yell but they yell, they say don’t lie and they lie. It’s not kids who have to change, it’s the parents.” Kids need a parent firmly in charge, says Berman, but that’s not the whole story.
Recalling a parental mantra from her own childhood – “Because I said so” – Berman noted today’s approach has evolved to parenting as a “personal concierge service” for the child. Showing an amusing slide with an aviation cartoon, Berman threw out an easy-to-grasp take-away: “If you saw a four-year-old in the cockpit – how safe would you feel? You, not the kids, fly the plane.” When the laughter subsided, she noted that though the pendulum must swing, it shouldn’t go all the way back. She recommended a balance between “because I said so” and handing over the keys to the cockpit. “Honor the feeling but hold the line” is a desirable middle ground.
Berman stressed that the “how” really matters when parents fly that plane. “Set limits with love,” she advised, holding not just the line, but also “the feeling.” Remember to “empathize with disappointments” even as you enforce limits. Sympathize with your child when he is suffering the consequences of misbehavior. Kids notice everything you do and say, said Dr. Berman, adding: “Parenting is a divine invitation to be your best self.” That often simply means keeping empathy, and love, in the equation.
Quoting Freud, Dr. Berman said it’s “not attention kids seek, but love.” The way one is made to feel sticks, she said. “We do not write the story of childhood with a dry-erase board – we write with a permanent sharpie” (Hall of Fame Softball player and coach Sue Enquist). And it’s not only the memory that lasts – good parenting has been shown to actually change the structure of the developing brain. A slide comparing a normal 3-year-old brain with that of an orphan showed a striking difference, with the brain of the neglected child appearing shrunken.
But back to that balancing act – exactly how does one best “hold the line?” Answer: effective discipline. Discipline, a word from which some parents shy, really means “to teach, not shame punish or hit,” said Dr. Berman. She offered an ABC’s of discipline, listing five elements of good practice:
A = Be an Ally, not an adversary.
B = Take the “Bark/Bite” out of discipline.
C = Be Calm and Consistent with follow-through.
D = Discipline yourself before you discipline your child.
E = Empathize with your child’s feelings – “I get it.”
To deliver on each of these while managing self-discipline is a tall order. A strategy key to the task is to “choose your words with grace.” Tone, delivery and language all matter, said Dr. Berman, reminding parents: “Trash the trash talk” – whether the target is the child, one’s spouse or even one’s ex. Referring to the old adage about sticks and stones, Dr. Berman suggested the reverse is true – a skinned knee heals and is forgotten, but “words wound in deep and powerful ways” (Rabbi Steven Leder). Parents should choose a “lovely tone” and the “right words,” honoring the notion that our treatment of our children will “determine their treatment of themselves” and that “we are the voice in our children’s heads.”
If you goof? Dr. Berman acknowledged that no parent ever “gets it right all the time.” She had an antidote ready: The “Mommy Do-Over.” If you say something you didn’t mean, own your mistake. The “difference between a scare and a scar is an apology.” Apologies allow parents to model maturity, get that second chance, and minimize damage. Always “follow rupture with repair.”
Before closing, Dr. Berman offered a few more general pointers:
- “Super scheduling” is disastrous. Don’t “steal childhood.” Find balance.
- Talk up character and kindness – achievement is not the only value.
- Moderate media use – “too much time on apps does not build the best brain.”
- Ask yourself, “What can I teach my child today?”
- Two top parental roles are “Moral Compass” and “Soul Guide.” Don’t get bogged down with personal shopper, chauffeur or chef. Aim high.
Dr. Berman left her audience with a touching image: a child’s self-portrait was shown holding hands with a much smaller “mommy,” and between them ran a cascade of little red hearts. Asked about the drawing, the child said, “She looks at me with hearts in her eyes, and that’s why I’ve grown so big.” Help your child do the same.
Robin Berman, M.D., an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA, is also a founding board member of the Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA. She is the author of Permission to Parent: How to Raise Your Child with Love & Limits, and has appeared on The Today Show and Good Morning America. Her book has been featured in the Washington Post, the London Times, and Time Magazine online.