About this Episode
On this episode, Dr. Amy and Teri speak with Dr. Phil’s resident parenting expert Donna Tetreault about The C.A.S.T.L.E. Method for building a family foundation. Her approach combines years of evidence-based research and Donna’s interviews with psychologists, educators, doctors, parents, and teens to help families create an emotional sanctuary based on compassion, acceptance, security, trust, love, expectations, and education. Join us for this powerful podcast that left us all feeling informed, hopeful, and connected in our journey to parent with compassion.
About Donna Tetreault
Donna Tetreault is a national TV parenting journalist seen on NBC News, The Today Show, The Doctors, The Talk on CBS, and Dr. Phil. She’s been a contributor to national publications and websites, worked as an elementary school teacher in East L.A., and wrote the best-selling children’s book, “Dear Me, Letters to Myself For All My Emotions.” Today she joins us to discuss her latest book, “The C.A.S.T.L.E. Method: Building a Family Foundation on Compassion, Acceptance, Security, Trust, Love and Expectations plus Education.”
Connect with Donna Tetreault:
Buy her book, “The C.A.S.T.L.E. Method: Building a Family Foundation on Compassion, Acceptance, Security, Trust, Love and Expectations plus Education” here: https://www.donnatetreault.com/donna-tetreault-books#donna-tetreault-books-temp
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Read the transcript for this episode:
DR. AMY: Hi, smart moms and dads. We are so happy to have you join us for another episode of the Brainy Moms, brought to you today by LearningRx Brain Training Centers. I’m your host, Dr. Amy Moore, joined by my co-host, Teri Miller, coming to you today from Colorado Springs, Colorado. Teri and I are excited to welcome our guest today. We’re having a conversation with Donna Tetreault. Donna is a best-selling and award-winning author. She’s a broadcast journalist with over 20 years of experience. She is currently a contributor at NBC News where she discusses all things parenting with Kate Snow in a weekly segment titled, Modern Parenting.
Donna’s work has been featured on the Today Show, The Talk, The Doctors, and Dr. Phil. She has written for Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, U. S. News and World Report, Parents. com, Your Teen Magazine, and Thrive Global. Prior to starting her broadcast journalism career, Donna was an elementary school teacher. She lives in Encino with her husband and two teenage sons, and she’s here today to talk about her book, “The Castle Method; Building a Family Foundation on Compassion, Acceptance, Security, Trust, Love, Expectations, Plus Education.” Welcome, Donna.
DONNA: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so happy to be here.
TERI: We are so glad to have you. Donna, I want you to tell our listeners before we get into the meat of your book, tell us a little about your background and what brought you to where you are today and led you to write “The C.A.S.T.L.E. Method.” Why this book?
DONNA: Yeah, you know, I have been in education. I was a teacher and then I became a broadcast journalist and when I had my two boys, who are now teens, 14 and 15 years old, I wanted to kind of get out of the general assignment recording path, which was kind of difficult for me as a journalist, trying to raise these two kids. You got long hours, 12-, 14-hour days, and also kind of the content. And during that time, I was losing my mom very slowly to Parkinson’s disease. And I was losing the person who was supposed to help me learn how to be the best mom, the best parent that I could be. And so I decided to stop general assignment reporting and get into this niche parenting reporting. And I just figured I’m gonna use my skillset and learn everything that I could about parenting and family and development. And I just thought that this was the way that I was going to teach myself. And I had have had so many people that I’ve been able to interview doctors, psychologists, educators, teens, you know, all kinds of people, moms, dads. So it’s been, it’s been quite a journey and I’ve learned a lot and I just felt like I wanted to use this evidence-based research and disseminate it to the world through my book, The C.A.S.T.L.E. Method.
DR. AMY: So I’m going to read a quote from your book and then just kind of ask you to talk about that a little bit. So at the beginning of your book, you explained that “castle” is not only an acronym, but also a metaphor for building. And I quote, “a sanctuary, a tower of strength, a protection, a great house, a beautiful retreat safe against intrusion or invasion.” So would you talk a little bit more about why you chose the specific words, the specific, yes, the specific words that made up that acronym. So compassion, acceptance, security. Why did you choose those for your blueprint?
DONNA: It’s a great question. When I, when I was looking at this and I was looking at parenting books, a lot of parenting books out there are talking to parents about how to help kids’ behavior or get them through certain things in life. And what I wanted to do was to build this family blueprint. So it’s for moms, dads, kids. And so again, “castle” is an acronym used as a metaphor to build the castle, the family of your dreams. Not the perfect family, but the best version of your unique family. And to do that, we can’t just be focusing on the kids. We need to focus on us as well as parents and everything that has brought us to where we are and why we parent the way we parent and how we could look at ourselves so that we could be a better version of ourselves as a parent, but also as a family. And to look at everybody in the family as a unique individual in need of nurturing and love and compassion and support. And so “castle”—compassion, acceptance, et cetera—these are evidence-based tools that we can incorporate into our families that I believe and that I’ve used in my own home. And I truly believe help families be stronger and the best versions of themselves.
DR. AMY: So did you, did you look at one particular approach to parenting that had some research behind it and say, “Yes, I want to dig into each of those elements and write a book about it”? Or did you in your interviews with different experts and in digging in the different peer-reviewed research results, did you begin to piece together, “Hey, this study found that compassion is essential for this element” or that security is a totally different research result. How did you compile those specific elements?
DONNA: Yeah, as this book really is a 10-year project. I had been interviewing experts in the field for years. And dozens and dozens. And I’ve asked hundreds and hundreds of questions. And so what I came to see were these components to me, made sense, in that if we look at each of these components and build them and put them inside of the family that it kind of touches on everything that everybody needs in my mind. And from what I saw from what doctors and researchers were explaining to me, I thought that this was a way to introduce it and to also say to parents, like if you, if you can incorporate compassion in your parenting and in your family life, you’re going to have better results. So it’s just, so it’s more like, you know, really bringing in this, this, this ability to know how to be a compassionate person. And what does that really look like?
TERI: So of those building blocks, the acronym, like you just, we just talked about—compassion, acceptance, security, trust, love, expectations with education, which of those do you think families today are struggling with the most and why?
DONNA: Wow. Oh my gosh, that’s such a good question. I think, as I look, I think acceptance is huge. I think because what we have seen with our kids and our mental health issues, that accepting a person, a child, a teen for exactly who they are and you know, we’re, we’re doing this during Pride Month. That’s one example of really accepting your child who might be LGBTQ. And what does that look like? Not trying to change that person. And then again, with academic achievement pressure at an all-time high, how do we accept our student, our child for who they are, how they learn and not try to force them into a box? So I do think because of the way society is going and culture and what our kids see on social media, teaching our children also self-acceptance. I talk a lot about that as well. And in the component of compassion, not just being compassionate to our kids, but teaching them how to be self-compassionate. What does that look like? And so I do think compassion and acceptance are pretty crucial. And look, I think that security too, because when we talk, I talk about security, not just physical security. I’m talking about emotional security. What does that look like? How do we teach our kids to feel emotionally secure? So I like to talk about all of these things. I could go on and on about it, but I do think probably acceptance and compassion are pretty big.
DR. AMY: So how do you kind of walk that line between being accepting and compassionate, but not falling over into permissiveness? How does that look and how does that work?
DONNA: Great question. That’s why I talk about expectations. This, this doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody just runs around and does whatever they want. I think that expectations are really crucial in setting standards in the family and structure. We know that from science that our kids need structure. So, but I also talk about expectations as meeting joyful expectations. Each of us should be allowed to be expecting to be joyful in our journey in our path. And so I think that when we talk about expectations, talking about structure, but then also talking about these joyful expectations that we want for our kids. I think that because helicopter parenting has really caught a lot of the kids that are coming up now, teens and young adults, and they’re really sharing how their parents directed everything and have left them without the ability to do what they need to do in life and to grow and to make it mistakes and to trust themselves and all these different ways. I think that, you know, setting expectations is important, but it’s also important to allow our kids on their path. And it’s hard to do that as a parent. And I think with helicopter parenting, it took off. And it, you know, parents ran with it, and we’re kind of seeing what has happened, and our kids are suffering.
TERI: Amy, I’m thinking about something you and I have discussed, that perspective of letting your kids fail at home. That it’s, it’s kind of that opposite of the helicopter parent perspective, and I feel like Donna, that’s what you’re talking about. That if, if we can accept our kids journey and yet also offer them security. And so like, I’ve got, I have nine kids, so I have a wide range.
TERI: Yeah. So yeah, I’ve got some that are really, really academic minded. Some that are very social. I’ve got some that tend to be more depressive and some more outgoing and high energy, you know, just this wide variety. But like my son who is super outgoing and friendly, but not as academic, I had to let him fail, so to speak. I mean, I had to let him—whoo, that was hard. Let go of that, Buddy. Are you doing your homework? Are you doing, you know, had to let that go. And then Amy talked a lot about that that can be okay because we let them fail at home so they have that security. They get to know what that feels like, but they don’t completely crash and burn, because they are still accepted and loved, even in that, you know, so to speak, “failure.”
DR. AMY: I love that Bob Goff talks about catching them on the bounce. And so we, if they can, if they can. make mistakes and fail in the emotional safety of their own home, right? Then they learn resilience and they learn how to bounce back and they learn, that sometimes that happens.
DONNA: Absolutely. And I love that. And that’s what I talk a lot about to when it comes to the chapter of trust when we trust our kids and trust their journey and know that they have to make mistakes or else they’ll never learn how to be resilient and just trusting them and showing you, showing them that you do trust them. Because when you, the parent, the person that they look up to most can look at them and show them and tell them, “I trust you. I trust the decision you’re making. It may not result in the perfect end results. But I trust you.” And when we say this to our kids, they then internalize it and trust themselves. We want them to be able to go out into the world and to trust themselves. We can’t direct everything for them once they’re out. We want them to have their own resilience to trust what their own calling is and not what outside sources or people are saying. Even us as parents. How do we know what’s right for them in the moment? We can help guide them and expose them when they’re younger. But the goal is, is to get them to trust themselves as young adults so that they can find the path that’s right for them.
TERI: I’m putting this a lot in the context of my kids age ranges, which my youngest is 10. Actually, she just turned 11. Ah, my youngest is 11 and my oldest is 28. But I’m thinking a lot of listeners, a lot of our listeners have younger kids. So just for a few minutes, talk about the perspective of CASTLE, the CASTLE method, when you’ve got babies. Say you’re in that stage where you’ve got three or four kids that are, you know, under 10 that are maybe 8 and under. How do you process that when you’re having to give lots of direction?
DONNA: Yeah, and you’re right at that age, they need the direction. But what I would like to say is that what Maria Montessori said—the Montessori method—never help a child with what you know they can do. So what we want to allow our kids to do for themselves what they can. So tiny baby toddler in the bath. You don’t have to wash them all. Let them take let them have the wash rag to wash themselves to show that they can do it. Of course, you’re there to make sure that they’re safe in the water. But anytime we can allow our children to do for themselves. It’s interesting, I have an eighth-grade son and he, you know, wanted, he’s now making his classes for next year for high school. And he made his own schedule and he said, “Would you check it over mom?” And I said, “Sure.” And I thought it looked fine. He did some things that—some electives he chose that were interesting to him. Then he came back to me and he said, “You know, I thought about it more. I think I want to take a leadership class the entire year instead of these other two other electives.” And I said, “Okay, so what do you need to do then?” He said, “I need to get in touch with my dean. I need to email my Dean.” And so I said, “Do you want me to help you with that or can you do that?” And he’s like, “I can do that.” So it’s one of those things where we can give support, but if they can do it, let them do it. And, you know, so I know that Asher, that’s my son. I said to him, “Have you done this yet?” And he hadn’t done it yet. And I said, “So do you need a reminder?” And he said, “No, I think I’ve got it.” So it’s one of these things like we’re there, we’re present, we’re helping along, but if they can do it, let them do it. So and I do believe just like in the, you know, Montessori schools, kids do little jobs. Let them do jobs. Let them feel that pride and trust that they can do it. It’s not going to have to look perfect, but you’re building, you’re building and you’re building. And so, I think as an elementary school teacher, that’s what I did in my classrooms. And I often look at my kids and I like to tell parents, you know, “You’re their teacher and your goal is to get them ready for adulthood. So just let them have it, let them try, let them fail, let them make those mistakes. And then they’ll soon trust themselves to do what they need to do.”
TERI: I do think it starts when they’re little. And I see that, the difference in my kids. I had three kids and then had a five-year gap, thought we were done. And then we were kind of surprised and then went, “Oh, well, hey, let’s see what happens.” So, the older three … I was in a place in my life and we were culturally in a place living in a place where it was, it was very good for kids to look just right when they were toddlers, you know, kind of by Nashville, Tennessee area. So Franklin, Tennessee, mega church. And, you know, so in my culture. That was the good way to parent, to parent my kids, to be very respectful, to be very obedient, to look good all the time. So I dressed them. I fixed my daughter’s hair. You know, I didn’t let them pick out their own clothes and we’re talking, they were like four and five and I’m still dressing them. And they had a trajectory of trusting themselves much later in life, and I did that because I did not empower them. I did not trust them. And my other kids, we were in a different place. We were in Colorado. We were in the Rocky Mountains.
DR. AMY: Where Jesus doesn’t care what you wear to church.
DONNA: As long as you go.
DR. AMY: Jesus doesn’t care what you wear.
TERI: Exactly. Hiking boots. Yeah. And, oh my goodness, it’s so different. My kids have had the younger, the younger half, you know, have had such a different trajectory of gaining independence of trusting themselves of being okay with who they are. So listeners, if you’re hearing this, you can be free to let your kids dress themselves. Let them do what they can, even if they’re two. You know, let her wear that tutu to school preschool.
DONNA: Yeah, I love that. It’s, it’s so true. And then it allows them to be more who they are as well. They’re not feeling restricted. They’re not feeling like “I can’t really express who I am because I have to be in this box.” And so I love that perspective that you give because it is really interesting that you saw it in your own home, the difference of trusting early on as opposed to not. So that’s, that’s a huge lesson, huge. I love that.
TERI: And a lot of regrets. I have a lot of sadness and regrets. I mean, you know, I have to forgive myself all the time and ask my kids to forgive.
DONNA: But see, that’s another thing that I talk about in the CASTLE method. When I talk about self-compassion; self -compassion for us as parents, “When we know what we know, we do better.” That’s Maya Angelou. That’s not me. That’s a quote from her. But the point is that I think that we’re so hard on ourselves because when did we ever learn how to be a parent? You know, like I said in the beginning, you know, I was going to learn from my mom. That was my, she was my model. But I think that the education piece in the CASTLE method is to empower parents to educate themselves to not feel that pressure, but just to do the best that you can and know and give yourself that self-compassion. I was doing the best that I can. I’m a new parent. I’m a new toddler parent. Then I’m a new kindergarten parent. Then I’m a new first grade, you know, you’re learning. And it’s a constant learning.
DR. AMY: Yeah, I always say that we make the best decisions that we can with the information we have at the time. And so, you know, five years later, we can look back and say, shoulda, woulda, coulda, but I made the best decision I could with the information I had at the time, right? And sometimes you do have to go back and say, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me,” right? Because that’s, I think that’s an important lesson too. But you talk about that research shows that having God in your life is actually beneficial. Talk to us a little bit about that. Speaking about Jesus not caring what we wear to church here in Colorado.
DONNA: Yeah, you know, it was interesting. I was raised as a Catholic. I always say that my parents gave me the gift of faith. And in the book, it really speaks about the spirituality research, not the religious institutional research; very different things. And so what I wanted to offer up to parents was, even if you don’t believe in God, these spiritual practices like mindfulness can really be a big factor in raising your child. And we do know from research that kids who are brought up in a spiritual environment or a mindful environment, you know, are less likely to take drugs as teens, are less likely to engage in premarital sex. So there’s a lot of things that we can do in these practice of spirituality that we know from evidence is effective in our parenting. And so, however you want to incorporate that, you know. Like I said, I’m Catholic, but we’re not rigid in it. It’s, it’s more about having this faith in God. And, and with that, um, an example is every morning on the way to school. I don’t know how this is going to work now that my rising 10th grader is going to probably be driving himself mid next year, but we do a prayer and gratitude every morning in the car. And what that looks like is, you know, I modeled it for them early on when they were, you know, in second and third grade. I would, you know, give my gratitude and pray to God. And then they would say what they were grateful for and it really came out because we had had chaotic mornings, you know, socks were missing and people weren’t ready. And I said, we need a reset. So once we get into the car, we’re going to reset and we’re going to practice this gratitude. And so that’s spiritual too. So it doesn’t have to be this, you know, strict religious thing. And I think it’s really important for parents to know about that because there are so many benefits for our kids to incorporate these practices.
TERI: I love the gratitude practice so good.
DR. AMY: Yeah. And I think, you talk about the importance of cultivating gratitude, I mean, throughout the book. Right. So in that discussion of spirituality or mindfulness and meditation and those practices. Let’s talk about the science behind parental acceptance and rejection and how rejection can impact the developing brain.
DONNA: Yeah, it was so interesting me to look at this research and it kind of stopped me in my tracks as a parent because when you hear from this researcher who has been doing this for decades talking about the fact that even perceived rejection changes the brain, when you think about that, even if you’re not saying to your child that you’re quote unquote rejecting them, perceiving that from you is changing who they are. So, because each of us is so unique and I can say that I know my child, I don’t know what’s in my child’s heart and mind at every minute and every moment. And so to just look at our children with compassion and to accept them for who they are and accept them when they’re tantruming as a toddler. You know, it’s developmental. They’re not trying to get on your nerves. So it’s really accepting them as human beings. And sometimes it can be stressful as a parent, you know, they’re tantruming and you don’t want to look like this parent who doesn’t know what they’re doing. And so you’re in public and you change the way you would parent because of that. So it’s really just trying to focus on who that child is, what they’re going through in that moment and really accepting them in all the ugly and all the uncomfortable and knowing that it’s okay. It’s okay.
TERI: That perceived rejection. I’m thinking about the difference in genders, my sons versus my daughters. So I also have a rising ninth grader and she just had eighth-grade graduation yesterday.
DONNA: Well, congratulations.
TERI: Yeah, you’re almost there with yours. Yeah. So in the ceremony, this is an interesting story and I want to ask you a question about a quote you have in your book that relates to this. She was super upset and in tears last night, just super upset about how the ceremony went and her experience and how everything felt and she was really upset about what she felt like was gender stereotyping. And apparently the, one of the leaders, the staff members told the girls, “Girls, here’s your instruction. Sit with your knee, sit with your ankles crossed and your knees to the side. And I’m going to be watching and you need to make sure and sit that way. Otherwise …” I don’t remember, you know, it’s inappropriate, whatever. That’s what my daughter portrayed. And she had a beautiful new sundress on and she wore a little bike shorts under them, you know, because she was nervous about that. But apparently the staff person pinpointed a girl in front of the whole eighth-grade class and said, “So and so cross your ankles and turn your knees to the side.” And my daughter was just devastated and said, “This is not okay.” And so I want to bring up and I know that that was harsh. That was a bad situation. I’m sure that staff person didn’t realize. But so you talk about what neuroscientists have found regarding nature versus culture in boys versus girls and you wrote and I’m quoting your book. “Forbidding our boys to express their emotions, not only affects our boys, but also our girls, especially later in life when relationships bloom and families are formed.” So talk more about that and gender differences and expectations; boys versus girls.
DONNA: Yeah, there’s a lot of science behind the fact that, you know, kids, girls are allowed to express their emotions via society, and boys are not. Boys are allowed to show their anger, but they are not allowed to show their sadness. And so what this does to the family as our kids grow is that then this cycle continues that is telling and perpetuating and telling our boys that you are not allowed to feel. And it’s so interesting that you bring up this today because just last night I have been talking to my boys about talking about their feelings, managing their emotions, it’s okay to feel the feelings that they feel. And my, again, Asher said something last night, you know, “Dad, you got so upset. You know, you’re not supposed to get upset.” And I’ve been talking to my kids about feelings since they were very young because of, you know, the people I’ve been talking to and interviewing. And society is still interfering. Because he thinks he has to be this strong ‘you can’t show your feelings. And so when, when Asher said that to my husband, I said, “Dad has feelings too, Ash. Dad has to feel his feelings to he was upset. He has to feel his feelings too.” And so it’s so interesting to me that I feel like I’ve been trying to teach my boys this throughout their life, but because of societal influences, social media pressures, everything that they’re seeing and that they’re up against, we still have to keep talking. Keep reiterating, keep saying it over and over and over again to really change the culture. Because we’re not going to change the culture by saying it to our kids one time and thinking they’ve got it, because they don’t. It’s just so entrenched in our society that boys are not allowed to feel. And if you feel, you’re a “girl.” So trying to get over that is, you know, going to be a generation or two clearly. I mean, and with what’s going on in society. So I think that, you know, that message to me is I just got to keep, I got to keep talking to my boys. I’ve got to keep being really, making sure that it’s important for them to know that that it is okay for you to feel and it’s okay for dad to feel too. So, yeah, I feel like we have a lot of work to do.
TERI: Would you model it for us?
DONNA: How I said that to Asher?
TERI: Well, okay, here’s, I’m gonna, I keep giving examples with my family. So my son, soccer game, 13, he slipped on the wet grass and kicked the ball into the opponent’s goal.
DONNA: That’s tough.
TERI: Yep. It was a tight game and he gave the opposing team a goal. I could tell he was upset on the field. He was fighting back tears. He handled it well. When I spoke to him about it later, he said, “Oh, I wasn’t upset. It was no big deal.” I just, but I mean, I can tell, you know, he was fighting it back and I didn’t know what to say. Model it for me. What could I say to him to encourage him that it’s okay to feel?
DONNA: Yeah, you know, and that’s, yeah, with that age too, they want to push it, push it, push it. “No, I’m okay. I’m a big, strong guy.” I think, I think what it is, is you saying, “How did that make you feel?” He’s saying he’s okay, but, “How did that make you feel?” I do believe that asking questions and finding out if they’re willing to answer the questions, I always like to say to get curious. Instead of saying, you know, giving a statement, ask the questions first. “How did that make you feel?” And if he pushes back and said, I was fine, that wasn’t a big deal, let it be. Give some space, but you can always go back to it at a time where he’s had some time to process it and then say, “That must have been hard for you. That must have been really hard. Was it hard for you?” And then, and again, going to the questions, because I think a lot of times we want to hear them say, “Yeah, that was tough, but I’m fine now” because you want to kind of fix it or have it fixed. And letting him just be in his own space, processing it. I mean, I think that, you know, here’s an example. When maybe I’m doing live TV and I, there’s a, you know, I make a mistake or something. I might ruminate it, ruminate about it for a while until I can kind of work it out. But I do think that giving them the space, first asking the question, seeing if they’re want to talk about it. But if they don’t at that point, giving the space and then maybe bringing it up again. But then if they’re okay, let it be. Trust them. There’s where you go into trust again. We don’t have to fix everything. He doesn’t have to have a perfect response every time. You saw it, you felt it. Maybe he’s over it now. Right? And as parents, I know as moms, we just want to make sure they’re okay. Tell us they’re okay. Even when we think they might not be, but maybe trusting them that he’s over it now.
DR. AMY: Yeah, I, as a psychologist, I always tell people to normalize feelings. And so my response probably would have been something like, “Hey, most people would have been really upset if that had happened to them. How did you feel?” So that they know, “Yeah, I was upset. And you’re telling me that most people would be upset, so it must be okay that I was upset.” Right? And so if just reframing the question sometimes can help them maybe open up. But I want to go back to what you were saying about how change needs to happen at the societal level at the cultural level. And I think it was Max Planck, who said something about he was talking about how hard it is to change scientists’ beliefs in what in what they already believe. Like they’re entrenched in their beliefs. And so in order to move science forward, we have to wait for the old scientists to die. Right? And then the new scientists can then say, “Here’s what’s happening in research now.” And it just, it was this “Aha!” moment that as humans, we do become entrenched in our beliefs, and it takes so much disconfirming evidence to even move that belief. And so we do this with our children every day, all day, because they are the future. Right? So if we can change it at the youngest point, eventually we’re gonna die and our entrenched beliefs that boys shouldn’t cry are gonna die with us. Right?
TERI: Yes. It’s the second, the third, however many generations later, right? We’re all taking baby steps.
DR. AMY: So we need to take a break and let Teri read a word from our sponsor, and we’ll continue this conversation when we come back.
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DR. AMY: Thank you, Teri. And we are back talking to Donna Tetreault, author of “The C.A.S.T.L.E. Method.” And so Donna, you, in your book, you share a story from your own childhood about being told by your piano teacher that you had to make a choice between piano lessons and basketball. And so you wrote, and I quote, “Culturally, we are teaching our kids that if they aren’t competitive in a sport or any other extracurricular activity, it’s not worthwhile. We’re taking the fun out of learning and playing.” So would you talk a little bit about that and what you call “quitting” versus changing course?
DONNA: Yeah, I think that there continues to be this—it’s a theme that we need our kids to be on a certain destination, and it has to be all mapped out. And I feel like we’re losing this ability to explore and to find out what we don’t like, and find out what we do like, and find out what we enjoy just for the joy of it, not for the, you know, being the top person in it. I think that, you know, in that story, I was talking about the fact that I loved basketball and I really enjoyed piano, but I was not going to be a basketball player with the WNBA and I was not going to be a professional pianist. But I enjoyed those things. And when my piano teacher, you know, there was a scheduling issue, said, “You have to choose.” I chose basketball and, you know, and I played basketball until eighth grade. I didn’t play in high school because then I went and ran track and I did other things. And so, but it was, it was this kind of, “You have to choose.” And what we know from research is that hobbies that we care about, whether it’s knitting or just drawing or whatever we do, carry us through life and can actually help our mental health and well-being because we can go back to something that brings us joy. And so when we’re told by teachers or people who are trying to help guide us to get into college or whatever else, you know, that academic achievement pressure might be, they’re really stripping us of this intrinsic joy. And so I think when kids are little, it’s really good to expose, expose, expose. Just a bunch of different stuff. And I had one friend who, when we were in elementary school, she said, her son was done with soccer forever and he was in second grade. And I said, “Well, why is he done forever?” And she said, “Because he’ll never be able to play in high school.” And I said, “You’re making this decision in second grade?” And she said, “Yeah.” And to me, that was sad for him because he could have stopped playing soccer and then realized, “I think I want to go play soccer again because my friends are playing on this new team and I’m going to go do that.” It’s like these rigid ideas that if there isn’t going to be this outcome, then it’s useless. And so I like to tell parents very early on to just expose your kids to so many things and let them go in and instead of saying that they’re quitting or there’s that disappointment in it, that goes to that, you know, perceived rejection, instead phrase it, “We’re just changing course. We’re going to go this way right now, but we can always go back that way if we want.” Why do we have to have this end point? So I think it’s really important to, when you know … Look, quitting if you’re in a season, you’re not going to quit that season because the team is relying on you and the coach is relying on you. But if you’re going to change course at the end of the season, that’s okay. Change course. And maybe you want to go back to what you were doing before. But I think it’s, again, trying to follow our kids’ lead. Trying to trust what they’re telling you, what is fun for them, what is important to them, what brings them joy.
TERI: That’s so good back to that trust. Oh, that’s so important. Oh, makes a big difference people. Let me tell you, when I did it wrong. So there’s a section in your book, Donna, where you explain the five birthrights, the needs that all children require for healthy development. And you mentioned that if you didn’t get one of these five birthright needs met, you’ll either create a behavior that will eventually get that need fulfilled or overcompensate for the lack of receiving it and get the need met for yourself. But both methods turn into kind of a survival behavior. So would you talk more about that, those birthrights and how that works?
DONNA: You know, it’s interesting because while I was writing this book, that’s what brought me to really think about what I needed and not just focusing on fixing the behavior of my kids. It was more about that’s what kind of brought everything around to the family and to building a family foundation as opposed to parenting my kids. I was struggling a little bit with, you know, my husband and the way we were communicating. And we know that our kids feel that. And so I went to go see Suzanne Morris who, she is, you know, she talks about these birthrights and if you don’t feel that you were given something as a child, you need to give it to yourself as an adult so that you can then move on and be the parent and the person in your family that you want to be. So I think for my husband and myself, there was a lot of kind of bickering about, you know, our feelings, my feelings, feeling like he wasn’t meeting my needs and what I was saying about certain feelings. And then he could say that about me as well. So we were unable—and what I found out is that, you know, I came from an Italian Catholic family, Mom and Dad, amazing parents. This is not to put down my parents. And this is not to say to parents who read my book to judge your own parents. Most parents are doing the best that they can at the time. And so that’s showing our own parents compassion. But what my need that really wasn’t met, being the oldest girl in this Italian Catholic family, was just making sure helping going good. You know, that was kind of my role. And you hear a lot girls in their family. I mean boys too. You know, that they felt like they kind of had to make sure that everything was ok. There was a lot going on, there were five kids. And so I think that like I needed to kind of just be the good girl so that I wasn’t adding into any of what was going on in the family. And so then that affected me as who I was. But that’s not to say that I didn’t receive, you know, so much love from my mom and dad and they were great parents, but it’s about, that’s why I really talk about this emotional security and security being so important. Because I think that when we feel like we’re secure in our families and we can be who we are and we can share our emotions and we won’t be judged for them or we won’t be told “don’t cry” or “It’s okay. Don’t worry about …,” you know, it’s giving myself that permission to say, “Yeah, I don’t feel good and I want to sit with it. I don’t feel good.” And it’s okay if you don’t feel good too. We can feel these uncomfortable emotions. And so, you know, I think that more and more and I think coming out of the pandemic, this is just highlighted. How much, you know, parents can really allow their kids to feel their emotions and for us as parents to feel our emotions too, and not squash our feelings. So it’s giving yourself these birthrights that you feel that you did not receive, just giving them to yourself. Saying I didn’t get them then, but I’m going to give them to me. It’s basically you, you getting in touch with yourself to find out what you didn’t get. Then moving on to acceptance of that and forgiving, but not being in judgment either. You know, that’s really specific that she talks about that because, you know, if you’re going to always say, you know, you didn’t give this to me, you didn’t give this to me, you know, this is something that’s going to perpetuate. And so then once you realize what you didn’t receive, you give it to yourself.
DR. AMY: I like that. Yeah. So as you were talking, I was kind of reminded my dad was a, “Stop crying. Why are you crying?” And of course, what happens when you tell a child to stop crying? They cry harder, right? And so I think that a lot of times parents want to fix it. Right? They’re uncomfortable with those emotions. They are making a judgment. We, I should say we, we’re making a judgment that, “Hey, that situation does not warrant that response when we tell a child stop crying.” Right? And so we want to fix it. We want to make it better. And it’s okay, is what I’m hearing you saying, that we can just sit in that space with them, right? Like they can feel whatever it is they feel. We don’t have to fix it. They don’t necessarily want us to fix it. Just being compassionate and with them, and providing a safe space for them to express those emotions is what’s going to make them more resilient. Is that what I’m hearing you hearing you say about that?
DONNA: Absolutely. And I think that that, you know, it’s hard for us to sit as parents and those really uncomfortable emotions. You know, I, there’s just so many examples in my own life that, you know, I see my child in distress about something and I want to just go in and fix it. And I have to pull myself back and say, “You know. You know this. You’ve educated yourself about this. You know that you need to let them sit in the uncomfortable, because if they don’t know how to sit in the uncomfortable, they cannot then move on to a more positive emotion for themselves.” If we fix it, they’re not going to be able to sit in it and then move on to that positive emotion. So the other thing I like to talk about is with compassion, you know, there’s empathy. We can have empathy for our children, but compassion takes it to the next step and compassion is having empathy, but then compassion is allowing and trying to alleviate the suffering of another, not to fix it. And so how do we alleviate the suffering of another? By letting them sit in those negative, uncomfortable emotions, giving them the space, and then, if they’re unable to move on to a more positive emotion, helping them move on to the more positive emotion. But it’s their process. And so that’s why I really distinguish between empathy and compassion. Because with empathy, you’re just kind of sitting in it with them, but you want them to be able to move through it and out of it. So that’s then allowing for the space. And then alleviating the suffering of another by giving support, but not fixing.
TERI: So I’m thinking maybe a really practical example. I’m thinking like, for my youngest, and I’m just brainstorming. I may be off target. So give me some guidance. I’m thinking what listeners might be thinking. So I asked my daughter to do her putting the dishes away chore and she immediately is angry and upset. She does not want to stop what she’s doing. She doesn’t want to take care of that chore. And so there can be a tendency to say like, to solve it would be like, “You know, that’s okay.” Or I’m going to help her or I’m going to do it for her because I just don’t want her to be upset. Or I’ll say, “Oh, that’s okay. You can do it later.” You know, that would be that kind of hovering. I’m going to make up for it. Or maybe there’s this other perspective that’s like, “Hey, you don’t need to fuss about this. It’s your chore and that is enough. So straighten up!” You know, something like that. But I think both perspectives are not letting her sit in the discomfort of, “Guess what? It’s uncomfortable to have to do responsibility sometimes.” Is that kind of what you’re saying?
DONNA: So what I, you know, in that specific case, I think that, if, so she’s in, she’s doing something that’s meaningful to her. You’re saying she’s doing something, and then you’re pulling her to do the chore, something that is an expectation in your house. So, if she’s really interested in what she’s doing … think of … So, what I like to do is I like to turn it around. Say that you’re involved in something, doing something that’s really important to you, and somebody comes in and says, “You’ve got to get this done right now.” It’s disruptive. It’s tough, but there is that expectation. So what you could do is say, “Okay, I see that you’re involved in this right now. What time are you going to get this done?” Then again, you’re then putting it into their hands. You’re showing them that, “I see you. You’re really involved in what you’re doing. So I can appreciate that, but you still have this expectation.” And then you’re trusting them to say, “I’ll do it like in an hour. I’ll have it done.” And then you’re trusting them to do it because do the dishes really have to get done in that moment, right? Unless you’re like having a dinner party or something, right? So I think it’s kind of being malleable. And, you know, again, trying to give them that ability to self-advocate, because when you’re saying to them, “You know, you’ve got to do it right now.” If they could say to you, “You know, I’m really involved in this right now, I’m doing this.” You know, “Do you mind if I do it in like a half an hour?” Then you’re, you got so many things that they’re learning right there. They’re learning that you trust her to take care of what she needs to care for the family. Cause she’s a part of this family and she has to do those things, but also that you respect her and you respect what she’s doing and that she’s involved in something. So it’s, that’s the lens of compassion that I’m, that’s why compassion is so big in the book. It’s really the foundation to the acceptance, security, et cetera. If you can have compassion for that unique individual.
DR. AMY: I love that. I typically will say, well, my kids are adults now, but I would say, because I respect their time and their activities and the joy that they’re experiencing with their video games or whatever there is that they’re doing, I would say something like, “Hey, I need this done by five o’clock today, or I need this done by noon tomorrow.” But the fact that you ask the question, “What time will you get this done?” or “What time can I expect that this will be done?” actually puts the responsibility and accountability on them. And that’s an executive function to plan like that. Because what I would find is my kids would be rushing around at the very last second and it would never be done at exactly the, you know, time limit I gave them, they were just starting, right? They would just start to clean their room at five till five.
DONNA: Of course. Of course.
DR. AMY: They’re never going to get that done. And again, I’m super flexible anyway, but the point is, I like that you turned that question to them. And here I thought I was being, compassionate and flexible and, you know, respectful of their time, but I like yours better.
DONNA: Yeah. Yeah.
DR. AMY: So we are, we are running over time actually. So Donna, is there anything that you would like to share with our listeners that you haven’t gotten to talk about today?
DONNA: This has been such an awesome conversation. I think the one thing that I like to get across to parents is to really find their own self-compassion. You know, I feel like we have so many pressures on us to do and be the right way. And we have so much that we have to learn about technology, about drugs now. I mean, our kids can’t even experiment because of fentanyl. There are so—there’s just a list of laundry list of things that we have to do as parents to keep our kids safe, that we need to give ourselves a break and we need to, you know, we really need to be in our own self-compassion. And when we have anxiety about any kind of security about them or maybe we react because we’re anxious or nervous, you know, to let it go. But then come back and say, “I’m doing the best that I can. I’m really doing the best that I can.” And I think to alleviate the shame and that we’re not these perfect people. Because ultimately if we can show ourselves self-compassion and model that, our kids will learn self-compassion and that’s what we want for them most. So that they can go out into the world and not feel that they have to be perfect and that they have to be this, you know, amazing, you know, highest level of whatever. And so I just think, give yourself self-compassion, parents, and your kids will follow suit.
DR. AMY: I love that.
TERI: You’re doing a good job. You’re doing a good job, brainy mom out there.
DR. AMY: Donna, how can our listeners find you?
DONNA: You can find me at www.donnaTetreault.com and on Instagram at DonnaTetreault and at Twitter at DonnaTetreault, but most of my stuff is on Instagram.
DR. AMY: Okay. And Tetreault is spelled T E T R E A U L T. And we will put those links in the show notes so that our listeners can find them there too. So thank you so much for listening. This was a fantastic conversation and I know our listeners are going to have great takeaways from your wisdom and advice today. So if you like us, listeners, please follow us on Instagram and Facebook at The Brainy Moms. Do it right now before you forget. If you liked our show, we would love it if you would leave us a five-star rating and review on Apple podcasts so that we can reach more parents just like you. If you would rather watch us, we are on YouTube. And that is all the smart stuff we have for you today. We will catch you next time. See ya.