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Veronica Lichtenstein On How to Raise Children Who Feel Loved and Connected

An interview with Pirie Jones Grossman

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 Veronica Lichtenstein.

Veronica Lichtenstein has a small concierge private practice in Jupiter, Fl where she uses a range of modalities, including EMDR, CBT, and Solution-Focused. She has been a licensed mental health counselor, focusing on teens and families, for over a decade and prior to that, worked as a teacher for a variety of ages from Preschool to 7th grade. Veronica has been married since 1995 and has two young adult children. She enjoys music, traveling, hiking, and laughing with her family above all else. She encourages her clients to visit her at Veronica Listens to read about current topics.

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”?

I would love to! I am the oldest of three girls to immigrant parents from the Philippines. My parents settled in upstate NY, where they made a living as CPAs. My uncle and aunt had settled there earlier and were practicing physicians, so we always had our first cousins nearby. We attended private school for some of our education, and we were one of the few children that had two parents that worked full time. My father was a very hands-on dad; both did the cooking, cleaning, and transporting the kids to school and activities. This was the model I had growing up and I always knew I would also have kids and have a career someday. It was instilled in me at a young age that education and hard work were the keys to establishing success and a good life. Our weekends were spent doing household and other family activities. I was motivated to start making money at a young age, babysitting for neighbors and family friends. In an attempt to shield us, we were not allowed to participate in many social activities with others, beyond family, which added to my shyness as a kid.

Freedom and autonomy were the best medicine in my development. I started to really come out of my shell in college at Syracuse University where I met my husband. We married five years later and had our first child, a son, in Chicago, IL. Our life eventually led us to Florida where we settled and welcomed our daughter. If I was told as a kid that I would eventually live in three areas of the country and have a career talking and listening to all kinds of people, I would have not believed it! I am grateful to my parents for giving me a stable home life and, despite their strictness and sometimes almost too rigid value system, I had a strong sense of self to push myself to do things. I live a very different life than my parents do, and I will always appreciate their love and support.

Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?

My experience as a teacher reminded me of the individual needs of each developing mind. In the classroom, I learned that being fair was giving each student what they needed. Not every child would need an extra 15 minutes of one-on-one reading tutoring, just those who were not proficient readers. Education and children were not “one size fits all or even most.” That was the start of really looking at each individual for their unique differences.

The private, teachable moments of parenthood also moved me to become a mental health counselor. Feeling different or misunderstood in my childhood was difficult. Sticking out as different, yet being told to conform and “act like everyone else” was confusing. Having my own children reminded me of that awkwardness and I wanted to protect them. My son and my daughter are both different- not only anatomically, but in personality and mood. They taught me early on that putting expectations on them, without understanding them, could lead to disappointment in myself. I needed to really listen to them and help them reach their authentic best selves, not my version of their best selves. A moving conversation regarding bullies with my then 9-year old son was memorable ( amongst many!) , “you always say I should be myself, but sometimes that’s not good enough!” A fourth grader understood that being yourself took courage. The following year, I went back to school to get my Masters in Mental Health Counseling.

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?

When our children feel strongly connected with us, they form secure attachments with themselves and with others. This leads to healthy development in all areas of a growing child- cognitive, emotional, social, and motivational. When children have healthy strong connections, it raises their self-esteem and promotes positive behavior.

Experiences also drive our thinking and ultimately helps formulate our beliefs. If a child experiences a happy and healthy childhood with strong connections, it becomes their hardwiring and they will seek that and manifest those experiences throughout their life. This does not mean parents have to be perfect, because that is not reality. It only means they have to be authentic, enhanced by age-appropriate conversations to help their children put things into perspective. I talk to kids who are dealing with their parents getting a divorce and some report that they have never heard their parents fight and are shocked to hear that there is disharmony. I have other kids report that all their parents do is fight and they are surprised to learn that yelling and screaming is not how it is in every household. Whatever your household reality is is the “real” of the situation, but conversations need to take place helping children understand their family reality. I have never heard kids say that they don’t feel close to their parents because their household wasn’t picture-perfect. Rather, they seem to express disconnectedness when they don’t understand the culture of their home or their parents. When a child gets the landscape of their familial dynamics, they develop a stronger sense of self. When a child develops a stronger sense of self, they feel more rooted and connected with their family, leading to good feelings about themselves.

What happens when children do not have that connection, or only have a weak connection?

Conversely, when children have weak connection to parents, teachers or any caregivers who play a role in their development, they may have behavioral issues and low self-esteem, as well as academic issues. This is because they may not have a positive role model to look up to and may not know how to form healthy relationships with others, which can also contribute to behavioral issues, difficulty in managing stress, impulses, and emotions. Additionally, they may struggle with feelings of abandonment or rejection, which can lead to emotional insecurity shown through acts of aggression, defiance, or withdrawal. An inability to focus and perform well academically are symptoms which could naturally follow.

Overall, connection with others, especially our early caregivers, is important for mental health because it provides a sense of belonging and support, which can help to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Do you think children in this generation are less likely to feel loved and connected? Why do you feel the way you do?

Sadly, “Yes,” I do believe this! Connection takes time, focused energy, careful attention. Families are busier than ever and so many times schedules don’t allow for the family to move and collaborate as a unit. There are more divorces so there is less tolerance in working to resolve issues. We want things to be better in the immediate now. There are more ways to communicate, but we have developed a disability in conveying our thoughts accurately and really listening to what we are trying to say to each other. As a result, we have more misunderstandings. There is a higher sense of competition and need to be labeled as “the best” or “gifted or advanced.” Yet, there is also a stronger frustration of not knowing who we are, thanks to the impossible standards that social media/fake news puts out. When this dichotomy happens, more kids report a sense of dullness and just “going with the flow” because “that’s what they’re supposed to do.” I believe most kids know their parents love them, but they still report a disconnectedness within their lives. Sometimes it can be too much, too fast, too soon- all well-meaning, but overwhelming.

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? Please include examples or stories for each, if you can.

1. Show gratitude. Let you child know and show them that you appreciate them everyday. Be specific with your words. This reminds us to focus on good behavior and actions rather than negative behavior. It’s imperative that your children know you love them, but just as important that they know you like and appreciate them and why you do. This promotes individuality and developing a strong sense of self. Ex: (connective way) “You are so creative! I love that you used your favorite color in that painting!” Rather than (non-connective/impersonal way) “Nice job!”

2. Don’t feel guilty about saying,”no.” Boundaries are healthy and necessary for children. Kids want things their way and sometimes you need to say ,’No!” Confident, assertive, reliable parenting is healthy parenting and kids need this structure in order to grow and thrive. If you have open communication and natural consequences, if you set clear rules and expectations, if you solve problems together with your child, you are practicing authoritative parenting style which is the healthy choice. What is not recommended is an authoritarian style which is very parent-driven. It is one-way communication with very little consideration of the child’s social, emotional, and behavioral needs and focused on punishment and strict rules. This style will absolutely hinder connection with your child.

3. Be present. Put down phones, laptops, books, etc. when spending time with your children. Get involved with their activities and participate regularly, even if it’s in an unconventional way. Know their friends, their teachers, their schedules.

4. Listen to learn and connect, not to respond . We want to encourage our kids to open up and share as much information as possible. They will not do so if they think you will lecture, or judge them. Validate their viewpoints and empathize often. For example: If a child tells you they are mad at their brother and “will never talk to them again,” your instinct may be to tell them to love and forgive and let it go. Rather, try “I understand that what your brother did really made you mad. I still get upset with my sister sometimes for stuff she does so I get it!”

5. Have daily, weekly, and yearly rituals with your kids. They do not have to be expensive or time-consuming, just unique and endearing to your family. Whether it’s a quirky way of saying goodbye as they’re getting out of the car or an expectation of Taco Tuesday for dinner during the week, it’s important to set special traditions with our children. While our kids were growing up, their father would take them to school every Friday, which would include going out to breakfast before that. The kids really looked forward to that special time with him, as I did the transporting most of the week. Every year, we would plan a trip to a different national park, where we could hike and be in nature, a great way to unwind as a family. One year, we even traveled with their grandparents, and the kids took turns sharing a hotel room with them. The quotes and funny stories we have from all those trips are memories we will have forever.

How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?

A good parent practices authoritative parenting style- they set limits with a warm, connective feel. Authoritative parents teach children about reasonable boundaries and their kids feel safe because they know what to expect. A good parent understands that they are not friends with their kids, although we all hope to be mostly on friendly terms with our children. A parent’s job is to keep their kids safe and help them develop into their best selves. A good parent accepts their children for who and where they are in development and doesn’t try to change the timeline or agenda, but rather continue to direct them towards their healthiest path.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

I think dreaming big is understanding and accepting yourself. Teaching your child to work towards obtaining the most authentic self possible is a dream accomplished. Promoting and nurturing self-efficacy is the best gift you could do for your child. If they grow up thinking, “I’ve got this,” then anything is possible. When young minds learn to start listening and trusting their thoughts, they start manifesting their dreams.

How would you define “success” when it comes to raising children?

Success is when your child grows up to be a competent, happy human with a strong sense of self-efficacy and a dedication to community and family. It is an honor to me when my adult children choose to spend time with us because they want to, not because they feel obligated to.

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?

Social media and pop culture are closely connected, as social media platforms often serve as a major source of information and promotion for popular culture events and trends. Understanding pop culture can help individuals navigate social interactions, as it allows them to participate in conversations and activities that are relevant and popular among their peers. Additionally, understanding pop culture can also provide insight into the values and beliefs of a particular group or society. Therefore, to facilitate healthy social development in our kids, I am all for allowing our children to have social media- with limits.

The internet is a powerful tool that should be respected and used to help and enlighten, not damage and manipulate. Like every good thing, it’s healthy to set boundaries on digital usage, especially with social media and developing children. Teaching kids positive digital habits early is crucial in lessening the possibility of leaving damaging imprints, like cyberspace bullying. Because the frontal lobe is still developing in children, they are prone to more impulsivity, making them vulnerable to post things that seem relevant in the moment, but could quickly become regretful. Reinforcing boundaries and following through with appropriate consequences should happen consistently to underscore the lesson that the internet is forever. With Apps, like Twitter and Snapchat, there should be an understanding and an agreement that the parents must know their passwords etc so they can monitor them. When helping your children with their impulsivity, encourage them to wait a minute before posting something by asking themselves, “Is this something I would want my grandparents etc to see?” “Will this content be relevant to me next week or even tomorrow?” Because it is important to give a child a sense of autonomy, I recommend limited and monitored usage. Be reminded that the more you forbid a child to do something- especially a teen or pre-teen- the more enticing it is. You can bet most teens will rebel at some point ( it’s their job to!) and have some Finsta (fake instagram) that you don’t know about.

I encourage parents to discuss the deception of social media as well. Most humans don’t want to post a bad picture of themselves and there are so many filters now that what seems real is simply unattainable. Yet, my therapy room is flooded with conversations of “not being good enough” or “ not living up to (impossible) standards” set by social media images. I love the words by the artist Jax in the song, “Victoria’s Secret.” She sings it so eloquently:

God I wish somebody would’ve told me

When I was younger that all bodies aren’t the

Same

Photoshop itty bitty models on magazine covers

Told me I was overweight

I stopped eating, what a bummer

Can’t have carbs in a hot girl summer

If I could back and tell myself

When I was younger, I’d say, “Pssst

I know Victoria’s Secret

And, girl, you wouldn’t believe

She’s an old man who lives in Ohio

Making money off of girls like me

Cashin’ in on body issues

Selling skin and bones with big boobs

I know Victoria’s Secret

She was made up by a dude (dude)

Victoria was made up by a dude (dude)

Victoria was made up by a dude.

We need to have the consistent conversation with our kids that what you see onscreen is not reality. Not even reality shows are reality. It is Gen Z’s culture to watch each other. If you notice, adolescent children watch less TV, but more of each other through TikTok and other digital and social media. So rather than learning about each other from meaningful “IRL” interactions, our kids are prone to make observations, assumptions, conclusions about other people from filtered, edited, marketed, scripted blurbs and images on social and digital media.

It is important to teach children about pop culture as it can help them develop social skills, such as communication and empathy, and can also be a way for them to explore their own identity and interests. However, it is also necessary to teach children how to critically evaluate the messages and values presented in pop culture, as well as how to use social media responsibly.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

My clients are my best resources, especially my teens. I’m honored to hear their stories and perspectives on family, school, and personal relationships. We can learn so much from our kids. I encourage my parents to appreciate chatty teenagers. If your child is telling you things, it means they are inviting you to take part in their life. Listen with no response, except maybe mirroring what they’re saying and asking for more. When teens figure out you will not respond with judgment or impunity or ridicule, they will begin to share more. The more information you have, the more you understand how your child thinks and where they are in emotional maturity. Set aside time once a week to focus on some of those points, but never while they are opening up.

I also really like Dr. Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages. Not only do I reference his principles in couples counseling, I also reference it in raising teens. (He also has a book for teens called The Five Love Languages of Teenagers). Dr. Chapman argues that the love languages are not limited to adults, but also applicable to teenagers. He believes that teenagers have the same emotional needs as adults and that understanding their love language can help them feel loved and valued. He also believes that understanding the love languages can help parents, guardians, and caregivers show love in a way that is truly meaningful and effective for their teenager, and can lead to a stronger relationship.

It’s important to note that teenagers may change their love languages as they grow and develop, and it’s important for parents, guardians, and caregivers to be aware of this and adjust their way of showing love accordingly. For example, as a young child, your teen may have loved to hold your hand and sit in your lap, indicating that touch was important to them in feeling loved. However, you may notice as they enter their teen years, they may not show as much affection, in fact, may even be embarrassed about hugging you hello or goodbye. Look for clues in the way they express their love to others and in their reactions in the way others express their love to them. Perhaps, they will light up more if you gift them with a car wash or a gas card instead?

Dr. Chapman states that it’s important to understand that all the five love languages are important and should be used in balance and not just focus on one.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Don’t Take Anything Personally” is one of my favorite life lessons quote and I use it often to help clients stop carrying other people’s baggage and pain around. It is from Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements. The book introduces four principles or agreements that the author believes can help individuals improve their lives and relationships. One of these agreements is “Don’t Take Anything Personally.”

The idea behind this agreement is that when we take things personally, we are assuming that other people’s behavior is a direct reflection of us. However, in most cases, other people’s behavior is a reflection of their own beliefs, emotions and experiences, and has nothing to do with us.

It’s important to me that my clients and my own kids always look at things from their perspective and that they listen first to their inner voice. Many times, we lose focus of what we want and who we are because we are distracted by others. Learning to not let other people’s opinions and behaviors affect us personally helps us build and maintain strong self-worth that is not dependent on the opinions or actions of others. It also allows us to approach situations more objectively and navigate healthier relationships which can help improve our overall well-being. Not taking things personally helps us have more compassion towards others and avoid unnecessary suffering.

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. :-)

Push yourself to do one scary thing a month. Get out of your comfort zone and do something different. Be okay with not liking it and if you do like it, promise yourself that you will do it again. This is a great way to grow as a person and to really develop a trust and understanding of yourself. It is a natural high to witness yourself doing things you never ever thought you would do.

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!

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Pirie Jones Grossman

TedX Speaker, Influencer, Bestselling Author and former TV host for E! Entertainment Television, Fox Television, NBC, CBS and ABC.