If there is anyone who understands what could drive a mom to drink, it’s parenting expert Tara Kennedy-Kline. This vivacious life coach and entrepreneur specializes in working with parents on better communication with their kids, including areas of discipline. Known as “The Queen of Accountability”, Tara is all about teaching parents the value of accepting responsibility for their actions as they teach their children to do the same.
As someone who grew up with ADD, not diagnosed until her 30’s, and as mother to a son with Asperger’s Syndrome, Tara Kennedy Kline knows all too well how valuable communication, patience and focus are to a family.
In addition to speaking engagements and private consultations, Tara attracts a quarter of a million people each month as the no-nonsense host of Parent Nation Radio, which airs online Tuesday mornings. She is also the author of Stop Raising Einstein: Discover the Unique Brilliance in Your Child…And You, a real-talk advice book on expectations in parenting and more.
We asked Tara Kennedy Kline to give us some of her ‘Tough Love’, and in this exclusive interview she gives us distinct examples of common parenting mistakes, advice for new parents, and much more. Read on…
How do you personally work with parents to overcome their insecurities, fears or misconceptions about raising their kids? Do you have a process of getting to the root of the issue(s) with each family?
Tara Kennedy-Kline: I generally work with clients on a 12-week cycle. I find that is the most effective time frame to become really comfortable with a person, as well as see measurable results. When talking to parents about issues directed at parenting, the first thing I do is listen to the parent’s concerns. Then we talk about the positive things that are going on, both in their life and their child’s. Then we make a list of things they would like to change if they could – both in their own life and their child’s.
From that point we can dive into those issues and examine 1) Who is this issue affecting? 2) What are the real concerns around it, like “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” 3) Is it really a problem that we can create a solution to solve, or is it just a belief that we are focusing on and dumping into our “this is so hard” bucket?
My favorite process is to take each issue case by case and through drilling down, find out if/how the parent has experienced something similar when they were a child. It’s very often a lightbulb moment, and really softens the emotions from anger into empathy.
What are some common questions that people ask you? What is the most outrageous question that has ever been asked, that you actually were able to help with?
TKK: “How can I get my child to listen to me without having to nag them and threaten them all the time?”, “How do I get my kids to do their chores/help around the house?”, “How to I get my child to stop interrupting me?”, “Why does my child disrespect me?”…
I get a lot of questions about kids and sex…I think one of the most outrageous questions was: “How do I get my 18 month old to stop touching herself?” I suppose it’s not really outrageous if you are aware that the child is not being pornographic…at that age, she is simply exploring her own body and in the process, found something that felt good.
Children have reasons for doing the things they do, and for her we first had to help the parents release the embarrassment around their daughter’s behavior and remind them that their reactions create beliefs in their child that will last a lifetime. Shame of our own sensations is not a healthy belief.
Then we looked into what would make a child want to touch themselves, including the possibility of a medical issue, as well as how to direct her – once all medical issues were ruled out – in an appropriate/discrete way. The child had an infection, and the issue cleared up with medical attention, but had the parents continued to shame and punish her. There could have been serious damage both physically and psychologically.
Another, example was a family with a child who was being medicated for ADHD. The parents came to me with issues of the child not being able or willing to calm down, even on meds. After visiting with the parents a few times, I realized that the child was being giving no outlet or time to release their energy. This was a pre-schooler who was expected to sit/entertain their self for most of the day, and had siblings who were getting most of the attention.
Then, at one of the appointments, the parents came in with the child carrying a Mountain Dew and a Snickers Bar – I shit you not. They then promptly strapped the kiddo into a car seat so they would “sit still and behave” for the duration of the 45-minute session.
The advice at that point was pretty simple: Cut out the caffeine and sugar – which had to be done slowly because of the levels the child was getting everyday – and start a daily family routine of one-one gross motor playtime, as well as dance party style breaks throughout the day. Board games and books instead of video games and TV, except as a reward and no more than two hours a day, and scheduled one-on-one time at regular bedtimes where the parents would ask an open ended question or story starter and just listen to each other.
Within two months, the kiddo as well as the parents and siblings were all reporting more enjoyment – less arguing, yelling and punishing – and better behavior at home. The parents were comfortable allowing others to care for their children so they could have some alone time, and the teachers were reporting better focus and cooperation in preschool. And all that over a soda, a candy bar and a couple of laps around the yard…
What are some basic mistakes that you feel people make with children every day?
TKK: Blaming their outbursts or negative reactions on the child: “Why do you make me yell at/spank you?”. Contradicting a child’s feelings or reactions: “You don’t mean that! You don’t act like that! We don’t believe that! We don’t cry over things like that!”.
Not being consistent with rules/consequences/agreements… The day you are in a great mood, your child swears out loud and then covers it up, but you laugh it off. The next time, the child is more confident, but you’re in a lousy mood, so you flip on them and smack their mouth. Neither reaction, however, is consistent with your rules and consequences: “No swearing. If you break the rule, you lose 20 minutes of screen time.”
What inspired you to write a book?
TKK: As a practicing life coach, I worked with adults every day to achieve their goals and dreams, but I struggled with my own son who has Asperger’s Syndrome just to communicate enough to complete his homework. After an out-of-town trip, my son flipped on me because he missed me, but he was mad at me for being gone. I used a technique I learned at my training to get quiet and just let him speak as long as he needed too.
During that process he became irate, and said something that cut me to the quick; “Why are you listening to me?! No one ever listens to me?!” In that moment, I decided to take my children through the same journey I was taking my clients through – adapted for the needs of children – and within three months, the school called a meeting to remove his Behavioral Plan because of his improvement. They asked what I had done differently, and when we realized it was the process, one of them said “You should write a book about that!” So I did.
What is the number one message you want people to take away from reading your book?
TKK: In a nutshell, our kids weren’t born with the desire to drive us crazy and piss us off. They were born with a desire to learn from us while honoring their own Unique Brilliance. All of us were. And if we would just take the time, every day, to really get to know one another and appreciate each other, this parenting thing would be a lot easier and more fulfilling for everyone.
What was the best piece of tough love advice that anyone ever gave you in life, and how did you apply that to your life?
TKK: No one can hear what you’re saying if your mouth is full of *crap*. My grandmother told me that when I was a particularly mouthy pre-teen. Today, I hear it every time I want to respond with anger, or when I get attacked for my opinions.
The other was “If that’s the story you’re going to keep telling, then so shall it be.” Jane Deuber said that to me many years ago, and it changed everything for me. Now, I say the same thing to my kids and my clients when they get on a woe-is-me kick. Snaps them right out of it!
If you could offer up some raw, honest advice to anyone preparing to have children right now, what would that advice be?
TKK: 1. Remember your childhood, but don’t parent from it. Not everything that hurt us is going to hurt your child. And not everything that was unpleasant, was bad.
2. Before you react, get quiet and breathe, then put yourself in your child’s shoes – but never put them in yours. No child ever went to jail because their parents didn’t think about a situation before they disciplined them.
3. Spend less money on clothes and more money on books.
4. TV will not hurt your child as long as you are watching it with them and talking about it.
5. Your child will not know to “go play outside” until you show them. Playing never gets old, and dirt is good for you…and it feels amazing!
6. Your child has no preconceived notions about parenting, appropriateness, beauty or acceptance. And you don’t owe it to anyone to follow “societal rules”.
7. Your child wants you to be a safety net…a bumper…a guide rail. Which means you need to let them bounce a bit, but give them boundaries.
8. You are allowed to enjoy your child, just don’t make them responsible for your happiness.
How do you balance your own family and career day to day when you are helping so many other families?
TKK: When my boys were little, I enlisted the help of neighbors and family to have focused work time. Now that they are in school, my work day is the same as anyone who works out of the office. At the end of my day, I close the door and get present with my family.
I believe in Multi-Level Parenting, not multi-tasking. I prefer to focus on and appreciate the people/tasks where I’m at. When people know they will get all my attention when I’m with them, they don’t feel neglected when I’m working or taking care of myself.
What do you want people to know most about you at this stage of your life and career?
TKK: That I am so proud of how far I’ve come, yet I am still a work in progress. As a mother and a spouse, I screw something up at least once a day, which means I learn something new at least once a day. But those lessons are my gifts and I will always share everything I have to offer with my Parent Nation. I have taken a ton of classes and gotten dozens of certifications and awards, yet I still have a lot to learn.
My passion is to educate parents and kids through laughter, understanding and authenticity. And because of my amazing love of craft beer and retro-cocktails; I dream of being the first mom to host a traveling parenting show…in bars.