One parent criticized my book, and she has a point

Book Sigh, See, Start with cartoon woman leaving a review

When Ashley on Goodreads left a review of my book, she shared a challenge she was having applying the SIGH, SEE, START parenting method in practice. She noticed that her kids were acting up in unison or picking on each other, she struggled to parent with SIGH, SEE, START. Her problem was one I had never anticipated when I wrote the book, and I learned a lot.

Ashley thought her job as a parent was to stay calm, not just sometimes, but all the time. And even while her kids were acting up together, Ashley felt that she should intuit her children’s emotional needs and meet them right then, while they were still acting up together. And no surprise, Ashley discovered that SIGH, SEE, START did not work for her when she tried to use it that way.

As a Gen X author, parent and pediatrician, it never occured to me that parents would not START by separating warring children. I had no idea that Millenial and Gen Z parents had not grown up hearing the phrase, “Do I have to separate you two?” Because for anyone my age, it’s a given that the first step in parenting wild groups of children is to separate them. The first step in parenting, especially when we use SIGH, SEE, START, is to reduce chaos.

Parent reviews teach me what’s working

As a new author, I look forward to reviews from readers who are parents. Parent reviewers give me a chance to know how well my book is working for them. Goodreads is a website where books are reviewed independently of booksellers. When Ashley got a copy of SIGH, SEE, START: How To Be The Parent Your Child Needs in a World That Won’t Stop Pushing, she went to work. This parent wrote one of the most thoughtful and informative reviews the book has received. Here’s an excerpt:

The impact of Sigh, See, Start on my family is instant. It works because it puts you in a mindset to be present, shows your child(ren) you’re actually present with them, and guess what? Being present goes a long way. This isn’t new – we know the importance of being present in our relationships and conversation and we know how it feels when that connection isn’t complete – but it often feels harder with kids. With Sigh, See, Start, I see that it doesn’t have to be.

Ashley on Goodreads

Parenting in real life

After analyzing the book itself, she shares her experience with her children. Two weeks into using SIGH, SEE, START, Ashley reports feeling relief and that her confidence as a parent has grown significantly. She says SIGH, SEE, START is working well with one of her children and she is still trial and erroring with the other. I loved that, because SIGH, SEE, START is all about using trial and error to gain skill as a parent.

Then Ashley gets to her parenting criticism. She’s having trouble using SIGH, SEE, START when the kids are fighting.

I struggle to implement this when issues arise involving more than one child. When they’re fighting because they want the exact opposite of each other, I don’t know how to make them both feel seen/heard and I don’t always see a path forward that supports both of their needs. Also, I have a much harder time regulating myself when they start pecking at each other.

Here’s why I love Ashley’s criticism so much: she has a point. It’s one I did not anticipate as an author. Unfortunately, I can’t always imagine exactly how my advice will play out in people’s families. But if I’d been watching more videos on today’s dominant parenting trend, i.e. gentle parenting, I might have.

For Ashley, her job is to make her kids feel seen and heard and to support their needs. I agree, and it’s a lot of what I wrote about in the book. But in the situation Ashley describes, she may be putting the cart before the horse.

Cut down on parenting chaos first

As a parent it has always been my approach to cut down on the chaos first. If the kids are being crazy, I would never expect myself to connect with their deeper emotional needs. Why? Because that chaos is driving me crazy too. I can’t regulate my own nervous system and stay wise and calm if my kids are overstimulating me. And that’s just science.

After all, if my kids are fighting, or sniping at each other: their primary need from me is to reinstate a respectful and safe environment. And because they are kids, that usually means putting them in different rooms until they calm down enough to stop being aggressive to each other. This is also the case if they are simply playing, but are out of control and getting dangerous. The kids are overstimulated and they are not going to stop being overstimulated until they don’t have each other to keep stimulating them.

Ashley had great goals, but she was skipping the first step.

Kids who are picking on each other are in fight or flight

Ashley found it so hard to discern her children’s emotional needs and meet them when her kids were picking on each other, because they were in fight or flight mode. This is one of the key scientific groundings for SIGH, SEE, START: that nothing good happens when we try to parent in fight or flight. While in that state, kids are not able to access any meaningful emotional processing until they are no longer feeling threatened. In fact, kids need to feel safe before they can shift out of fight or flight. And that means to start by removing the threat, i.e. their sibling, and placing the child in a safe place.

Ashley, understood the need to give her kids safety and understanding, but had not been given permission to be authoritative as a mom. As far as I can tell, like so many other parents right now, Ashley did not think she could just be the boss in that moment with her kids and tell them to knock it off. And that’s because of the messages she’s been getting from the parenting ShouldStorm.

The ShouldStorm confuses parents

In the book, I talk a lot about parents meeting our children’s genuine needs, as opposed the the false needs the ShouldStorm imposes on us. The ShouldStorm struck a nerve with Ashley, who honestly shared her experience of the ShouldStorm:

Oh my god, the ShouldStorm. A significant part of the book covers the ShouldStorm, which is essentially a collection of all those things we think we should do and/or have specifically been told that we should do. The ShouldStorm influences our actions because, well, that’s what we should do. I did not expect this book to call me out in this way because I 100% live by the ShouldStorm. It is so bad that I often find myself googling “what is an appropriate response for [insert any situation here]” and will go through periods of delayed communication with friends and family because I’m so tired of trying to figure out how a normal person would respond to any given conversation. That’s madness, and this book helped me realize that constantly trying to determine how I should act is completely killing my confidence and trust in myself. It sounds dumb, but it’s real, and I now know that I’m not the only one stuck like this.

I am so grateful that Ashley is starting to find freedom as a parent from the ShouldStorm, but it takes time. Two weeks is very little time to change as compared to the habits of of a lifetime. And Ashley wrote her review after using the book for only two weeks.

Parents don’t need to meet kids emotional needs instantly

So many mothers google “what is an appropriate response for” specific situations, like Ashley. And with gentle parenting at the forefront of parenting advice, telling parents that they need to warmly engage with all of their children’s feeling right now, every time, I might have realized that mothers would interpret SIGH, SEE, START through that filter.

But part of what I discuss in SIGH, SEE, START is also that pausing and taking a little extra time is helpful. And that kids having to wait a little bit to have their needs met is also part of what helps them develop.

Cartoon of two boys fighting, one holding a toy car away from the other

Parents try to meet emotional needs during chaos annoy kids

Now imagine instead of separating the kids, my response as a parent is to talk with a bunch of words about what they are feeling right now while they are still picking at each other. Either they are going to not hear me at all, or my voice will add another source of annoying stimulation. It’s a classic parenting mistake, called the too much talking mistake. And it’s one that the ShouldStorm really encourages.

As a parent, I want to help my kids process their emotions. And there is certainly a time to talk through this with my kids. But that time is after they calm down.

Parents who use Sigh and See to tune into their kids can also learn how many words work for them. With toddlers and preschoolers parents will want to use one or two sentences only, not give them paragraphs. With teenagers, parents know that it depends on the kid. But generally fewer words are better and lectures just turn them off. (See the chapter on collaborative problem solving in the book SIGH, SEE, START.)

SIGH, SEE, START helps us grow as parents over time

Ashley’s book review was so helpful to me, because it helped me recognize that as hard as I try to anticipate the challenges of parents, I can’t imagine them all. The ShouldStorm is so pervasive that we can’t get away from the impractical and sometimes harmful advice it gives us about our parenting. And when trying a new approach like SIGH, SEE, START, we will initially process that through the ShouldStorm we’ve been parenting in.

The power of SIGH, SEE, START is that the more parents use the method, the more they get free of those shoulds and build confidence in what works for them as parents. If you haven’t had a chance to try it, I encourage you to grab your own copy of the book on amazon, or sign up for my newletter to get fresh parenting ideas and resources in your email every one to two weeks.

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Author: Alison Escalante MD

Alison Escalante MD is a Pediatrician, TEDx Speaker, Writer and Mother on a mission to help parents caught in the culture of criticism.

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