Take breaks when you need to. If you are over capacity and need a break, say so. You’ll be modeling how to deal with stress in a healthy way. Your kids are picking up more from what you do than from what you say, so dealing with stress in responsive ways is a great thing for them to see. Set a microwave timer for 5 or 10 minutes and go lay on your bed. Put on a song and dance it out. Set a timer and go lock the bathroom door to take some breaths. OR do some breathwork and ask your kids to join you.
Parenting is challenging. We all try so hard to give our all to our children. We desperately want them to feel loved and connected. But somehow there is often a disconnect. Perhaps it’s a generational thing, or that we don’t seem to speak the same language as our children, or just all of the “disconnection” that our kids are dealing with in today’s frenetic world. What are steps that parents can take to help their children feel loved and connected? As a part of our series about “How to Raise Children Who Feel Loved and Connected” we had the pleasure to interview (Your name here).
Brenda Winkle is an educator, healer, speaker, and guide who helps sensitive and successful high performers find, reclaim and live from their full embodied YES. Through empowering her clients to understand what’s theirs/what’s not, establish the boundaried YES, and guiding them to full-capacity living, they are able to create their YES-Filled Lives and move through their days with more freedom, ease, and joy. To try transformational breathwork for free, get instant access at https://www.brendawinkle.com/breathe.
Thank you so much for joining us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know a bit about you. Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?
It’s 1986 and I’m prepping for my birthday party. I feel nervous because I’m not sure anyone is going to come to the party. My idyllic childhood walking to and from school and playing with the neighborhood kids had turned into anxst-filled teenage years where what I wanted most was to have friends. The connections that seemed effortless as a child had become difficult and drama-filled as an almost-13 year old. I had a skinking feeling in my stomach that seemed to affect how heavy my arms felt. I’d heard rumors that all my friends were going to another girl’s house during my party but I’d told myself that couldn’t be true, her birthday was last week.
The starting time of the party came and went. The door bell never rang. After waiting for around 30 minutes I finally realized, no one was coming and I began to cry hot tears of shame.
I grew up in Northwestern Nebraska in a small town called Chadron. My parents were music educators. They were active in our community and it seemed like everyone knew them. We were a close knit family and I always felt connected to my parents and sister. I think I took that connection for granted.
As I grew into a teenager and then an adult, the birthday party memory stayed with me. My parents and sister poured love into me and somehow, that took away a lot of the pain of having a birthday party no one attended. But that experience of the birthday party also made me realize, feeling loved and connected isn’t something to be taken for granted.
That’s informed many of the decisions I continue to make in my life, relationships and career as I am intentional about relationship building and helping others build relationships as well.
Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?
I’d love to!! Last August, in 2022, I was getting ready to start my 26th or 27th year in public education. I’ve always been committed to kids and families but I felt a calling to shift where I was placing my energy. I wanted to help whole families.
I knew that I could if I could teach parents new skills for managing stress and dealing with conflict in the home, the kids lives would change for the better. It was scary to think about leaving a career I’d committed my life to, leaving the security of teaching but I couldn’t ignore the nudges I kept feeling.
My heart was racing when I resigned from my current position and I was both scared and exhilerated. I’d decided to invest in myself and to become a trauma-informed breathwork faciliator and to add breathwork to my healing toolkit.
It was the best decision I’ve ever made. I’ve recently become an advanced trauma-informed breathwork faciliator and am able to guide my clients to profound inner healing. The best part is that when a parent heals, the children benefit. The most impactful and important thing a parent can do for their child is to heal what needs healing. Healing heals forward.
I’m thrilled to be offeing healing to the whole family, to schools, organizations, companies and to the particpants in my signature offer, “Yes Academy” a 6 month program designed to ignite your inner yes so you can do the things that light you up. I’m bringing my experience in education and advanced training in healing and breathwork to families and schools to help successful adults and students feel better, release stuck emotions and lower stress.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you explain to us why it is so important to forge a strong connection with our children?
There is significant scholarly research that tells us children need (at least) one healthy relationship with adults in their lives who can serve as a role model. The book “Hold on to your kids: why parents need to matter more than peers” by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate is a great place to start for someone looking for a resource.
You’ve probably heard the story of the “Lord of the Flies” where children were raising children. The result is chaotic and harmful to the development of the kids. It turns out that “Lord of the flies effect” isn’t too far from the truth. When children don’t have an adult who helps them to feel safe, loved and connected they will turn to the strongest personality who can make them feel connected. It won’t matter to the child whether that connection is positive or negative, it’s the connection that matters most.
Children seek a strong connection between themselves and a loving adults. When that happens, the child feels safe look to the adult for guidance rather than relying on the other children around them to feel loved and connected. The research shows this is true even when there is strong peer pressure. Research shows that with even only one positive adult relationship, children have healthier self-concepts, improved mental health, reduced drug and alchohol use, lower rates of depression and anxiety and do better in school. After graduation, those children who had even one healthy relationship with an adult go on to lead fulfilling lives. That one adult could be a parent, a teacher, a counselor, a healer, a coach, a religious leader, or another friend’s parent. Why?
We all are biologicially coded to seek co-regulation of our nervous systems. According to polyvagal theory, co-regulation is a way that we send and receive signals of safety from people around us. The co-regulation experienced between a parent and child is profoundly important to a child in laying down relational patterns.
Co-regulation itself is a nuetral term that describes the co-mingling of two (or more) nervous systems. If a child is disregulated (upset, angry, acting out) sometimes the presense of an adult’s regulated system is enough to help them feel safe enough to calm down. If the adult’s system is disregulated (angry, stressed, upset, sad), you’ll see this in the child’s response as well.
One of the best, fastest, and most effective ways to regulate the nervous system is through breathwork. I invite you to try breathwork by clicking on the link in my bio. All breathwork works to support nervous system regulation.
We all, but especially children, seek out relationships with people who have regulated their nervous systems. If there is no one around with a regulated nervous system the child will seek safety in any way they can find it: often by finding ways to fit in with other children. This can be difficult because as you know, children often need to be taught things like taking turns and kindness. Children relying only on other children for their love and connection either withdraw because it doesn’t feel safe (which almost always leads to depression or anxiety), they become followers in order to fit in, or they become a bully in order to keep themselves feeeling safe.
What happens when children do not have that connection, or only have a weak connection?
Children lacking connection or a strong connection often believe they are the problem. Children view themselves as the center of the world in early stages of development. They are seeking to understand the world around them and are looking for cause/effect. When children have weak or no connections with loving adults, they internalize it, believing they are the one that caused that lack of connection. They believe something is wrong with them.
The belief (I am the problem) lowers self esteem, and can be the root of depression, withdrawl or acting out. I spent 26 years in the classroom and I can tell you that 100% of discipline problems I saw in the classroom were solved when I built a connection with the child.
The same is true for parenting. If a child doesn’t feel connected to the parent, they will withdraw (either physically or emotionally), try to control the situation, or lash out defiantly.
Do you think children in this generation are less likely to feel loved and connected? Why do you feel the way you do?
We are in a new era of technology and it isn’t going away. Technology helps us do many of the things we do every single day. It can be problematic for children feeling loved and connected if their parent splits their attention between their child and their device.
In order to feel loved and connected, we need to feel seen and heard. When I meet with someone and they spend time looking at their phone, responding to social media, searching the internet while we talk or texting I do not feel seen or heard. Do you feel this, too?
This isn’t to say children of this generation don’t feel loved and connected, but it is to say there is potential to not fully engage with them if we are distracted by our devices.
Here’s something to try. Put away all devices and have a conversation with your kids looking into their eyes. If it feels familiar, you know that you’ve already been doing this. If looking into your children’s eyes doesn’t feel familiar and even feels uncomfortable, no judgement. But there is an opportunity for growing that sense of connection between you and your child.
We live in a world with incessant demands for our time and attention. There is so much distraction and disconnection. Can you share with our readers 5 steps that parents can take to help their children feel loved and connected?
- Take good care of yourself. It isn’t selfish to take the time you need to feel good and regulate your own nervous system. You’ll show up differently for your children when your cup is full. Meditate, take a bath, journal, do breathwork, take a class, get a coach, go to therapy… the choices are endless. For your children to feel loved and connected, it starts with you feeling a sense of love and connection to yourself. You can’t give what you don’t have, so this is an important step.
- Create anchor activities that begin and end the day that put your child in the center of your attention. For example, sitting down to breakfast even for 15 minutes before the day begins is a great way to connect to your child. You can ask what their day looks like, what they are excited about. You’ll also get insight into anything they feel worried about so you can follow up later. At the end of the day, create a routine around bedtime that includes time to connect. You can do this with young children with book or lullaby time before bed. Older children might enjoy taking a walk after dinner, or tea before bed. The activity you choose doesn’t matter as much as the intention to connect using that activity, so have fun with it.
- Create times each day where there are no devices in use so you (and your kids) can be fully present with one another. The time this happens and then length of time you choose doesn’t matter as much as making the effort to be present. So make it fun and easy. Play a game (off of a device), take a walk, prepare a meal together, share a meal, color together, play with your kid and their toys, tell jokes, do a puzzle, play outside or with your furbabies and kids. Being present won’t just impact your children in positive ways, it will reduce your stress and overwhelm, too.
- Take breaks when you need to. If you are over capacity and need a break, say so. You’ll be modeling how to deal with stress in a healthy way. Your kids are picking up more from what you do than from what you say, so dealing with stress in responsive ways is a great thing for them to see. Set a microwave timer for 5 or 10 minutes and go lay on your bed. Put on a song and dance it out. Set a timer and go lock the bathroom door to take some breaths. OR do some breathwork and ask your kids to join you.
- Weekly dates are a really fun way to spend together with your kids. It gives you both something to look forward to. Your date can be free: you could go hunt for rocks or leaves, take a walk by the river, blow bubbles, play with sidewalk chalk, go for ice cream, or so many other things. You’ll come to look forward to these as much as your kids.
How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?
There are good parents in all kinds of packages who do things in any number of different ways. I’m reluctant to defining a good parent as one thing, because there are so many right ways to be a parent. I will say that a good parent is someone who thinks about the impact of their parenting on their children. So for you reading this article, I would define you as a good parent because you are creating intentionality around your parenting.
How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
Children pick up what you do even more than what you say. If you want your kids to dream big, allow yourself to talk about your dreams in front of them. That might be talking about the book you want to write, the class you want to take, the promotion you are going for. Let them see you dreaming and demystify the process.
How would you define “success” when it comes to raising children?
I feel like success in raising children is raising people who can think for themselves, who take personal and emotional resposiblity for themselves, who try to do their best, and who are kind to other people. We are raising the generation who will be caring for us and the planet so I also like to think about how we are teaching our kids to care for each other and our world.
This is a huge topic in itself, but it would be worthwhile to touch upon it here. What are some ideal social media and digital habits that you think parents should teach to their children?
Digital citizenship is an important thing to teach. This means teaching digital safety, understanding that anything posted can exist even after it’s deleted and teaching kindness. The former educator in me would love to see children staying off of social media as long as possible.
I know it isn’t always an option for parents to delay a child getting on social media, so if you have children on social media, be sure you know what they are watching/posting/viewing to be sure it’s appropriate for them, safe, and that they aren’t being bulllied online or being a bully online.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
I highly recommend Love and Logic. It’s a great way to take away the power struggle in parenting. It’s a method that started in schools but works wonderfully for parents and kids at home. There are books, workshops, and a website with frequent blogs. I personally used it in the classroom and while raising my own daughter. Love and Logic is a great way to teach personal responsibility to kids in a kind and loving way.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Yes!! “If you think you can, you can. And if you think you can’t, you’re right” ~ Mary Kay Ash
Your thoughts are incredibly powerful. I try to keep this in mind for myself in my self-talk and what I allow myself to think. I’m very careful to babysit my thoughts and shift any that aren’t going in a direction I want to go.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I want parents to know that you come first. When you heal, everyone around you heals. Healing heals forward. Parents, you matter. How you feel matters. If you need a persmission slip to take care of yourself, this is it.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!
About The Interviewer: Pirie is a TedX speaker, author and a Life Empowerment Coach. She is a co-host of Own your Throne podcast, inspiring women in the 2nd chapter of their lives. With over 20 years in front of the camera, Pirie Grossman understands the power of storytelling. After success in commercials and acting. She spent 10 years reporting for E! Entertainment Television, Entertainment Tonight, also hosted ABC’s “Every Woman”. Her work off-camera capitalizes on her strength, producing, bringing people together for unique experiences. She produced a Children’s Day of Compassion during the Dalai Lama’s visit here in 2005. 10,000 children attended, sharing ideas about compassion with His Holiness. From 2006–2009, Pirie Co-chaired the Special Olympics World Winter Games, in Idaho, welcoming 3,000 athletes from over 150 countries. She founded Destiny Productions to create Wellness Festivals and is an Advisory Board member of the Sun Valley Wellness Board.In February 2017, Pirie produced, “Love is Louder”, a Brain Health Summit, bringing in Kevin Hines, noted suicide survivor to Sun Valley who spoke to school kids about suicide. Sun Valley is in the top 5% highest suicide rate per capita in the Northwest, prompting a community initiative with St. Luke’s and other stake holders, to begin healing. She lives in Sun Valley with her two children, serves on the Board of Community School. She has her Master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica and is an Executive Life Empowerment Coach, where she helps people meet their dreams and goals! The difference between a dream and a goal is that a goal is a dream with a date on it!