Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Author Interview: Wendy Thomas Russell

Author and publisher Wendy Thomas Russell wrote ParentShift with Linda and Ty Hatfield, founders of Parenting from the Heart. Their book offers a new way to raise resilient, confident, and kind children.

Wendy recently talked with Rose City Reader about her new book, parenting, and universal truths about children:

What is the “shift” in the title of your book, ParentShift: Ten Universal Truths that Will Change the Way You Raise Your Kids?

It’s a paradigm shift.

In America, most parents fall into one of two categories: Controlling or permissive. Controlling parents tend to set loads of limits, place unreasonably high expectations on their kids, and fail to demonstrate enough empathy with children. Permissive parents, on the other hand, can be empathetic to a fault — treating their children’s problems as their own. They also expect far too little of children and tend to be weak limit- and boundary-setters.

Our book offers a third and wholly distinct parenting style: heart-centered. These parents set strong limits and boundaries, know how to genuinely empathize with their kids, and have high and reasonable expectations of them — all of which is associated with children who are kind, confident, compassionate, capable, resilient, and healthy.

Unfortunately, most adults were not raised in a heart-centered way, which is why it requires a paradigm shift.

Tell us a little about Linda and Ty Hatfield, and how you came to collaborate with them.

Linda is an educator by trade, and her husband, Ty, is a police lieutenant. Twenty years ago, they put their heads together and created an incredible program called Parenting from the Heart — a program based on all they had learned in in their years of study and experience. I met Ty when I was working for the Long Beach Press-Telegram as an investigative reporter in the early 2000s. After I gave birth to my daughter, he told me about a class and, eventually, my husband and I decided to take it ourselves. Seven years later, we decided to collaborate on the book.

Why did you write ParentShift?

When my daughter was in preschool, I began to encounter problems that I wasn’t sure how to solve. Our usual bag of tricks suddenly seemed insufficient. That’s why we chose to take Ty and Linda’s class. The class changed our lives. It made us better parents. It made us better spouses. It made us better people. As a writer, it’s hard to have a life-changing experience and not write about it. And, as it turned out, Ty and Linda always had wanted to turn their program into a book but needed a professional writer to do it. It was a no-brainer.

Your book is structured as a practical guidebook. How do you hope people will use it?

I hope people will see the book as the comprehensive guide that it is. This is not a book aimed at solving one particular kind of problem or navigating one particular age group. ParentShift aims to help parents identify and address virtually any challenge at any age. I hope people will read to the end and then refer back to it for years to come.

What is your professional background and how did it lead to you writing a book about parenting?

I fell into this genre quite by accident! I spent fifteen years in newspapers and when I left, I wrote a couple of books for the Girl Scouts before starting work on a novel. It was during that time that I started a blog about secular parenting, specifically about navigating the thornier issues — like talks about death without heaven and what to do when someone tells your child she’s going to go to hell. The blog, which eventually moved to the Patheos network under the name “Natural Wonderers,” was based on personal experience, as well as interviews I conducted with various experts. The blog became my first parenting book, Relax, It’s Just God: How and Why to Talk To Your Kids About Religion When You’re Not Religious (Brown Paper Press, 2015). ParentShift is my second and, most likely, my last. I’ve said just about everything I need to say on this subject!

Who do you hope will read your book?

It’s tempting to say everyone, because, frankly, much of the book’s advice can be applied partners, parents, co-workers, employees, friends, you name it. But, more realistically, our audience is parents, grandparents, caregivers, and teachers of children around age three to five. That’s when most parents start noticing that their old reliable techniques are starting to break down and — like me — turn to books, blogs and other parents for advice.

What makes your book different than other books about raising children?

This is going to sound self-serving, but I truly believe it: Ours is the most comprehensive, down-to-earth, actionable, and forward-thinking parenting book on the market. ParentShift provides detailed advice, true stories, unbiased research, and a modern sensibility. And because we have a sense of humor and a plain-spoken style, it’s fun to read.

What will readers learn from your book?

All children, regardless of their culture or background or socio-economic status, are driven by ten universal truths. These truths are things like “All children have emotional needs,” “All children have innate, neurological responses to stress,” “All children model their primary caregivers,” and “All children go through developmental stages.” These truths account for the vast majority of children’s behavior — whether it’s the tantrum of a toddler, the snarkiness of a nine-year-old, or the sullenness of a teenager. The thing is, it’s not always obvious which “truths” are at work at any given time. In ParentShift, readers will learn how to locate the underlying cause of a child’s behavior so that they can choose a heart-centered course of action appropriate for that situation.

In addition, parents will learn how to set consistent, reasonable limits and boundaries; curtail power struggles; minimize sibling rivalry; respond to outbursts without losing their tempers; create effective chore systems; prepare children to meet life’s challenges on their own; and build open, trusting relationships that keep kids turning to parents for guidance well into the teenage years.

Can you recommend other tools, books, or resources to parents figuring out how to raise their kids?

I recommend Your Child’s Self-Esteem by Dorothy Corkille Briggs, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, Hold On to Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté, Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn, PET: Parent Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort, and Between Parent & Child by Haim Ginott. And for a better look into the great, wide, expanding world of brain science, check out almost anything by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson.

What else would you like people to know about your book or your approach to raising kids?

This book is not about being a “perfect” parent, whatever the hell that is. We’ve all come to parenting with our own baggage, neurosis, flaws, and failures. That’s okay. We don’t ask or expect adults to nail every interaction they have with kids. Parenting is rarely a straight shot. That said, an awful lot of parents are on a path that doesn’t line up with their own goals. They are sabotaging themselves and don’t even know it. Once parents have the knowledge, their own issues and idiosyncrasies no longer threaten to torpedo the kid’s self-esteem or damage the superbly important parent-child relationship. Because when they make mistakes — which they’ll no doubt do — they’ll know how to get back on track.



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