Episode 221 | May 19, 2020

Holistic Parenting in a New World with Dr. Nicole Beurkens

A Personal Note From Orion

As a new mom, I am always learning new ways to raise my son the best way I can. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but I don’t currently have a village around me. Especially with quarantine, it can be very difficult. I can’t give him all the activities he used to have, such as interacting with other babies, playdates, and all that good stuff. 

This is difficult. It hurts me as a mom to know I can’t give my son everything he might need. Now my baby is very small. It makes me think about all the other parents who have to homeschool and deal with the external stress of whatever COVID-19 has created in their lives. 

So to give us some much-needed parenting tips to help us stay aligned and in harmony with our kids, I invited Dr. Nicole Beurkens to Stella Life. She’s a very special woman. I myself learned a lot from this interview and I’m so excited to share it with my fellow mothers (and dads too). 

Dr. Nicole is a unique combination of psychologist, nutritionist, and a former teacher. She has 22 years of experience supporting children and families to improve their children’s behavior naturally. She’s also the founder and director of Horizon Developmental Resource Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and a bestselling author, award-winning therapist, published researcher, and a mom to four kids. I hope you will enjoy this episode as much as I did. Now without further ado, on to the show.


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About Today’s Show

Hi, Dr. Nicole, and welcome to the Stellar Life Podcast. Thank you for being here. 

Thank you for having me. 

Yes. Thank you so much. Can you share a little bit about your passion and working with kids and helping parents?

Sure, I have the best job in the world, I think. I am a licensed clinical psychologist and nutrition specialist. I get to work with kids from babies through young adults to help them thrive, reach their potential, and help their parents. Most of the kids and young adults that I work with have some type of either mental health challenge or developmental disability, which creates challenges for them in their lives. Helping them to reach their best potential and helping their parents, it’s a great thing. And I’ve always loved working with kids. I was a teacher before I was a clinical psychologist, so I have a bit of a background in that too. And I have four kids myself, although they’re getting older now. My kids are 13, 16, 18, and 20, so I spend my workday and my personal day around kids and absolutely love it.

I think you have some advantages over other moms because of your background. I’m a new mom to a seven-month-old baby, and I’m just trying to figure it out. I’m always like, “Am I doing the right thing? Am I not doing the right thing?” The more you read about parenting, the more confused you get. 

It’s true. And here’s the thing. Yes, I was a teacher. I had a degree in Child Development and was teaching before I had children. But I’ll tell you what, you have your own kids, and suddenly I’m like, “What am I doing?” I remember being in the hospital with my firstborn. Two days after giving birth to him, and I looked at my husband and said, “Are they really going to let us leave with him?” I think that what you’re talking about is so normal and so typical. We all just figure it out as we go, right? Oftentimes, all parents come into the clinic, and they’ll say, “I’ve read all the books. I’m ready.” And then you have this child that defies everything in the books, and you go, “Wow, I’m still left figuring it out.” So children have a way of humbling us, that’s for sure. Just when we think we have it figured out, we realize that we don’t.

My little one, he’s such a joy, and he’s amazing. But sometimes he gets a little aggressive like, and he’ll pull my hair really hard. He’s a strong baby. He’ll pull my hair, and he’ll pinch my face, and it will make my face red. And he’s so young, and I’m like, “Do they understand anything at seven months old?” I try to say no, but then I’m like, “Am I just saying no to some to this little being that does not understand no?”

During times of stress and uncertainties, the best thing to do as a parent is to be patient with yourselves and your kids. Nobody's got everything figured out right away. Click To Tweet

Well, babies understand a lot more than we think. But at that age, when they’re doing things like pulling on our faces or our hair, they’re really just exploring their world. They’re figuring out how to work their hands and their eyes together. They’re exploring how things feel. They’re exploring the reactions and the responses that they get from us. So they’re not doing it intentionally to cause harm or something like that, but it’s a good opportunity for them to learn, “Oh, that hurts Mommy.” Putting their hand down or moving your hair or putting your finger in their finger to grab instead, so they start to learn that, “Oh, my actions have some consequences.” or “Oh, this is what that feels like to other people.” So they’re taking all of that in. And babies are remarkably perceptive and observant and learning so much every single day. Really, that’s the thing that’s amazing about children of all ages but especially babies through the preschool years. There is so much growth and change, and they learn so much all the time. It’s kind of hard as parents to keep up with them sometimes.

Yeah. It’s amazing. And every day there’s something new that is super cool. Going back to the aggressive behavior, if he’s overtired and he’s breastfeeding, he will kick and pull me – it’s like having a little tiger. 

Well, and you notice something important there, and that’s true for all kids. I mean, I suppose it’s true for adults too, for that matter. When we start to get overly tired, stressed, hungry, or something like that, we’re not at our best, right? And so we see that in children, even very young children. But certainly, as they get older too, you see more of those sort of impatient, impulsive, or reactive kinds of behaviors because the brain is not working the way that it would under normal circumstances when we’re overtired or over-hungry. So sometimes it can be helpful if you notice patterns of that. To say, “Oh, let me try feeding him a little bit sooner.” “Let me try to catch him before he gets to the point where he’s so overtired or hungry.” Sometimes we can do that, sometimes we can’t, but our job as parents really is to just be observant, to notice the patterns, and to say, “Oh, let me see if this might work better. Let me try that.” That’s a helpful thing to do as a parent.

Also, he’s teething, so he’s in pain.

Oh goodness. Yes. Then you add that to it also, right? As parents, we look at our kids, and we go, “Oh, I wish I could make that better.” But then they have to go through it. That’s a good observation too. And sometimes, it feels good to them to nurse, but it also can be tender and hurt their gums sometimes, and so it’s like, “Oh, I want to eat, but this hurts a little bit.” And so they can get a little restless there too.

Now we are experiencing this crazy new world and the Coronavirus pandemic, and we have to stay at home with our kids. For me personally, my thought is, it’s a little bit of a feeling of grief because we used to go to mommy and me classes, and he would interact with the other babies, and then some swim lessons- just like really showing them what the world looks like. And now, we just have to stay at home and who knows for how many months, maybe a year? So I have this feeling that he’s missing something. What can I do to give him the best opportunity to learn and experience things when I’m at home?

It is such an unusual time, right? Nothing that any of us would have predicted, and everybody’s adjusting to a new normal. Now here in Michigan, where I live, schools have now been closed through the end of the school year. We have stay-at-home orders in place now for at least several more weeks. Everybody’s trying to figure out how to adjust, and that can take a toll on parents and kids. And what you mentioned, grieving with that, I think that’s a really good point. Various types of grief go into this. The grief that children feel at missing out on things that they were looking forward to. Everything from birthday celebrations to school field trips to sporting events- all those kinds of things. Vacations. And for parents too, as you mentioned, you’re grieving the loss of some of these fun activities that you were doing with your baby.

I can speak from, for myself, having a son who is a senior in high school, there’s some grieving that we’re doing around not being able to do any of the normal senior kinds of activities. Possibly not having senior graduation- all of those things. So I think grief is a good word for that. And the thing that I think is important to remember- regardless of the age of their kids- is there are so many wonderful learning opportunities and growth experiences. Just in the things that they can do at home, building relationships with their family members, helping out with chores and activities around the house, getting outside, and playing more. So often, children’s lives are so busy and so rushed now. We put them in school at an early age. Many kids are involved in lots of activities, which can be a good thing. But we also know that some kids don’t ever get an opportunity just to slow down and be kids. 

Let the quarantine be an opportunity for you and your kids to slow down.

To go out and play in the yard, to play with their toys, to sit down and have family meals together. Those are really important things. And so to me, one of the real benefits of this time right now of being in quarantine or sheltering in place or whatever they call it, where people are living. The silver lining, the benefit of that is an opportunity for us to slow down together as families, for us to spend some time in different ways with our children, and with each other, for our kids to have some experiences that they don’t have on a typical basis. I have so many families at my clinic now who are saying, “Oh my goodness. In the last three weeks, I’ve taught my son to do the laundry.” “My other son has learned how to help me cook dinner.” “This one went outside and was in the garage for three hours and built this amazing robot out of cardboard boxes.” All of these things that they have an opportunity to do. I think that it’s important to realize that those are all really good things that can come from this. 

And for you with your baby, it’s like you go back just even a generation or two. Certainly, if we think about when our grandparents were raising children, how we’re living life now is how life was, right? Even when I was a baby, there weren’t all of these things. So while it’s wonderful to have those, I don’t want you or any other parent to worry that if you can’t access those kinds of activities or things over the coming months, that there’s going to be a problem with that. Because really, what babies learn the most from is their interactions with their parents and other close caregivers. So, having that face to face time playing together, doing routines together is the most important and valuable thing for babies to do. As long as he has you, and things that the two of you are doing together, even at home, it’s going to be just wonderful for him.

That’s good. And what about social connection because we used to have playdates with other babies?

So here’s the thing to remember. In the first few years of life, the most important relationship for children is with their parents and other key adult caregivers. Peer relationships don’t become really important for children until they get to three and a half, four years and beyond that. That is because their relationships with adults, parents, and other key caregivers lay the foundation for communication and relationships with their peers. So, really for him to be able to be engaging with you in ways throughout the day and spending time with you, that’s the most important thing. Now, honestly, those playgroups for babies, whose social needs are those most important for? 

The moms. 

That’s right. It’s the parents, and it’s important, right? One of the things you may be feeling now is, “Oh, as a parent, I’m feeling kind of isolated now because I can’t go out and do these things.” It’s important to look at ways that we, as parents, can stay connected to other people. Because being home with our children all day can feel- it can be wonderful – but it also can feel isolating and feel kind of lonely. 

Thank you. And what about parents who have five or six-year-olds and they value that social connection with other kids? Maybe it’s just one child in the home, and so you feel alone. How do you deal with that?

Yeah, it’s tricky. This is especially so when we start talking about teenagers. Because their world revolves around their friends and their peers, right? It’s important to find ways for them to stay connected. Whether that is using texting or apps on the computer or participating in Google Classroom with other students or those kinds of activities, become important. Because technology, while we don’t want to have too much of it, certainly kids spending too much time on devices is not good. But right now it’s a wonderful thing to use technology to stay connected to their friends to the other important people to them. So I’m encouraging parents to find ways to make sure that their kids can have phone calls or FaceTime or Skype with friends or participate in those kinds of things. That’s important for them right now, especially as you said, if they’re an only child, they don’t have siblings or other kids around. 

My husband and I decided to really limit my baby’s screen time to almost nothing. But since the lovely quarantine, what do you do? This is the only way you interact with other people, and sometimes you get bored, and you really want to watch a movie. So he’s been exposed to screens way more than I’ve ever imagined. How can I navigate this? Because he sees us on our phones and computers all day long.

Well, it’s a part of life right now because probably you both are trying to work from home and stay connected to people. The really important thing for babies is we don’t want them just to be left alone sitting in front of the television or the iPad or something like that. That’s not good for them. As you’re saying, we don’t want our babies or any age of a child to see us constantly in front of devices. I’m guessing that there are many things that you do with him throughout the day when you don’t have screens. That’s the important thing. When watching a movie, it sounds like you’re probably holding on to him, kind of interacting with him, having some time with him, not just sitting him in front of the television to watch a movie, and walking away. 

Children determine how distressed, anxious, or upset they need to be based on the behavior that they see in their parents. Click To Tweet

No, no, no, no. 

So that’s an important distinction. When we look at the recommendations for screen time for babies and young children, children under the age of two should not have screen time unless they are doing things like FaceTiming with grandparents or other important people. But what we really mean by that is we don’t want screen time to become a babysitter for your children, especially at that age. They need direct interaction with their parents and their caregivers. So there’s a big difference between you interacting with your baby and maybe face timing with a friend or watching a movie and putting him in his seat in front of the TV and then going and doing your own thing. 

But I do think this is a big issue. One of the things I’m being asked most in the last few weeks by parents is, “How do we find balance?” Because now, children are home all day, most of them are now expected to do some online schooling. And then, as we talked about spending time with friends online, parents usually say, “How can we balance this screen time?” It’s something for parents to be aware of, and how I think about it is kind of going back and forth throughout the day; if your child’s doing something with screen time, then have them take a break and do something without screens. Make sure that you’re spending at least as much time not with screens so that kids are getting breaks. We know that’s important for their brain development. It’s important for their physical development not to be spending hours and hours in a row on devices. Especially with this whole pandemic situation- something for parents to be aware of- when kids spend too much time in front of screens, they get very grumpy. Their behavior gets worse; their anxiety gets worse, all of those things. So we want to help them to take breaks and to make sure that we’re having them do other things, not just the screens all day.

So homeschooling. I don’t need to experience it right now, but many of my friends are. They feel like they’re going nuts. What are some tips for homeschooling?

It’s tricky. I think I heard this term last week from a homeschooling parent, and I think this is a better way to think about it. Most people now who have suddenly been thrown into having their kids home, it’s more crisis schooling. It’s not really homeschooling. You know that homeschooling is a totally different thing where you plan ahead and control it. What everybody’s doing now is crisis schooling, right? My child was in school, and now suddenly, they’re home all day, and I’m expected to have all these online school things and whatever. So it’s a very different situation. And what I’m saying to parents is to be patient with yourselves and your kids. Nobody’s got all this figured out right away. This has been a huge change. Especially for parents who are trying to figure out now how to work from home, and they’ve got their kids home. So take it slow. No child is going to be harmed academically or in any other way. If they’re not spending the entire day on school activities right now, some schools aren’t even sending things because they’re saying this is not the most important priority for children right now.

These are very smart schools. 

That’s exactly right. In kids right now, there’s a lot of anxiety, stress, a lot of adjustment. They should be doing things like playing, getting outside, reading books, listening to their parents read them books, playing with toys, helping with chores. Those are the most important things. So to me, what I say to parents is as long as they’re keeping their children engaged and giving them some meaningful things to do, they don’t need to worry about the academics and the homeschooling. If you’re cooking with your child, there’s reading and math. You don’t need to worry about it. And so I really don’t want parents stressed out. I think a lot of parents are putting a lot of stress. They’re worried like, “Oh, my child’s going to fall behind. This is going to be a big problem.” It is not. And I say that as someone who was a teacher, and who now specializes in children as a psychologist and someone who’s been a parent now for 20 years. No child is going to be in a terrible situation academically if they don’t do schoolwork right now. I hope that gives parents a chance just to take a deep breath and don’t put that stress on you right now.

And when you put that stress on you, you put that stress on the child, and the child is already stressed out. So it’s a vicious cycle.

One of the most important things parents can do for their children right now is to manage their own stress and emotions. Because children determine how distressed or anxious or upset they need to be, based on the behavior that they see in their parents. So the most important thing right now is for us as adults to work on managing ourselves to work on our own stress level, managing our own emotions, our own behavior, taking care of ourselves. And when we can do that, that has a very positive effect on our children. So yes, we definitely want that. That’s an important area for us to focus on- taking care of ourselves and managing our own emotions and behavior. 

You can incorporate learning at home by letting your children help with chores.

What are some tips for parents who are dealing with an anxious teenager or an angry child?

Right now, during this situation? 

Yes. All the emotions that arise because of this.

So what I said a minute ago about parents managing their own feelings and behaviors is an important piece because if kids see us acting out and communicating in angry, anxious ways, that’s only going to make them feel more distressed. So that’s important. But it’s also important to remember that children are allowed to have whatever feelings they have. It’s okay, and we want to acknowledge and empathize and encourage them to communicate about how they’re feeling. What isn’t helpful is when a child is feeling frustrated or sad or hurt or angry about something, and we say, “It’s not a big deal” or “don’t worry about that” or “you shouldn’t feel so sad about that.” Here’s something to feel happy about. That’s more about us as adults feeling uncomfortable because our child is expressing some uncomfortable emotions, and we just want everybody to be okay. 

We need to acknowledge how kids are feeling. “You’re feeling really sad about that? I get it. I understand why you’re feeling sad. I’m feeling kind of sad about this too.” Or if a child is anxious, “You’re feeling nervous about that. You’re feeling worried. There’s a lot of people feeling worried right now.” We want to acknowledge how they’re feeling. Let them know that it’s okay. Now, we may need to discuss how they’re behaving based on how they’re feeling, right? It’s okay to feel angry about something. It’s not okay to manage that anger by hitting somebody else or slamming doors or speaking disrespectfully. We need to talk about what are appropriate ways to handle when we’re feeling angry or frustrated or sad. But the feeling is always okay. We acknowledge and empathize with the feeling, and then we help them if they’re struggling with managing that. Maybe they’re acting out or having behaviors or things we talked about. Here’s a better way to do that. Let’s learn some strategies for helping to calm ourselves if we’re feeling like we’re getting really upset or angry. Let’s do some breathing. Let’s look at some of the apps that are available for kids to calm them. Let’s distract ourselves and play with the Play-Doh together or let’s talk about how you feel if it’s an older child. We need to help them learn some appropriate ways to handle that. And we can be models for that ourselves.

How can you communicate this to a baby or a toddler? Because it’s a different type of communication.

That’s right. Using very simple words and really more showing them. Like with a toddler who may be acting out, maybe hitting or having temper tantrums because they’re feeling anxious or feeling frustrated about something, we say, “Oh, you’re so mad, but you can’t hit mommy.” And then we help them and guide them to sit with us, give them a big hug and just breathe together, or maybe we blow some bubbles together, or we get this toy out and play together. Those kinds of things we do with them, we model for them. Because at that age, you can’t have a lengthy discussion about let’s learn to take deep breaths, tell me what’s bothering you. Kids that age- babies, toddlers, and even preschoolers- they don’t have the words yet to communicate that. So we have to help guide them by showing them and by doing those things with them. That’s how they learn.

What about the word no? 

It’s an important word for kids to hear. I get really concerned, as you mentioned earlier in our conversation, there’s a lot of parenting books out there that tell you all kinds of things about parenting, and you read conflicting things, right? And there are certain parenting books certain people who promote themselves as parenting experts to approach this as “You shouldn’t tell your child ‘no’ or ‘I don’t I don’t like that.’ “You phrase things always in the positive, and you never tell them no.” That actually is really a problem because, in the world, children will hear no. Not only as children but when they grow up to be adults if you raise a child who has never heard no and doesn’t know how to manage their own feelings and reactions to that, they end up in my office as young adults in college, having to deal with that for the first time. They become very depressed and anxious, and they don’t know what to do with themselves. 

So kids need to learn how to handle being told no and not being able to have or do things that they want to do all the time. Now, of course, when they’re little, they’re just learning what that means, right? And so we have to model that, and we have to be consistent. If we’re saying no to, let’s say, having a cookie before dinner. “Nope, we’re going to have dinner. No cookies now,” and they throw a temper tantrum, the worst thing we can do is be upset that they’re having a tantrum. We want them to stop, so we say okay, “here have a cookie.” Well, now we’ve created a big confusion in that little child’s mind, right? They heard us say no, but then we changed our mind when they threw a temper tantrum. So we have to be consistent. Our no when we say no, we need to mean no, and we need to follow through with that. 

Don't worry so much about what everybody else is doing or saying. Trust your gut instincts with your children. You know your kids better than anyone else. Click To Tweet

And we can say no in calm but firm ways. The difference between screaming no at a kid, which I don’t recommend, and being calm but firm. “No cookies before dinner” or “it’s not okay,” “nope, don’t hit mommy.” We use calm but firm words. Take them by the hand if we need to, so that they can’t continue to hit or whatever they’re doing, and we teach them that it’s okay to hear no. Sometimes you can’t have what you want, or you can’t do what you want to do and that you can survive that. Those feelings go away, and you come out on the other side, and life goes on, and it’s good. And that’s what they need to see. “Oh, I’m feeling so angry or so frustrated right now.” But after a few minutes, “It’s alright. And I move on.” And that’s really important for kids to learn even at very young ages. “I can survive being told no.”

And what about, sometimes one parent who is very firm with the no, and then the other one will come and give the cookie. How do you deal with that?

That’s an important thing. That’s why honestly, a lot of the work that I do at my clinic is with parents, even more than it is with children. Parents will bring children in with all kinds of challenges that they’re dealing with. Often, parents expect that we’re going to spend most of the time directly with the child. But most of the time, at least at the start of treatment, we’re spending with parents because these are the kinds of issues that can create difficulties and make it more difficult to manage what’s going on for a child. So in the example you’re giving, where one parent is trying to be consistent and set boundaries, the other parent is undoing that. Not only is that very confusing and problematic for the child, but it creates a lot of anxiety, anger, and distress between the parents as well. 

So it’s important to help parents get on the same page about that. And sometimes there needs to be some compromise there of what can we agree on? And what are we going to set as the ground rules? What are we going to be consistent with? That is very important because otherwise, it’s very confusing for kids, especially at young ages. But even for teenagers too. One parent says no, the other parent says yes. It’s not a good thing. So we want to try to work with parents to communicate well with each other. To talk about what each of their values is. To talk about how they were raised, and how they see this working with their child and then come to a plan together that they both feel good about.

Yeah. I feel like sometimes we can get to the point of raising our kid in a bubble. Going back to saying no, everybody wins a prize, and everybody’s a winner. We don’t want to say no. I just feel like we can raise kids that are very entitled and also cannot handle the real world, as you said. So what can we do so we raise children that are not entitled?

I think entitlement is one piece of it. And I think lacking resilience is another piece. So, kids who are raised where they get everything they want, everybody’s a winner, they never experience uncomfortable feelings like losing, or not being able to have what they want, or feeling disappointed. When they don’t learn how to experience and manage those uncomfortable feelings as children, not only can they get older and then be entitled, but they also lack resilience. They’re not able to handle the normal problems and challenges that come up in life. So we must teach children from an early age that it’s okay to have uncomfortable feelings and deal with uncomfortable situations. You can make it through. You can manage it. You can do it. You’re capable of that. And also that you don’t always get what you want. And that’s okay, too. 

Some of the ways to do that are parents setting some limits on children, and sticking to those limits is important. “No, we’re not eating cookies before our dinner” or “No, you’re not going to have a temper tantrum in the middle of the store because you want me to buy you this toy” or “No, you’re not going to speak to mommy and daddy that way.” Whatever it is, set limits and be consistent. But I also think another piece of it is parents doing the work within themselves of learning how to be okay when our kids are feeling uncomfortable.

I have a problem with that. Even this morning, I was trying to cook breakfast. It took me about two hours. So I put him in his little chair, and three minutes go by, and he started to feel uncomfortable trying to get off of the chair. And then three minutes and a half, he started to whine, and then it went into screaming, screaming, screaming, and I have to leave everything and hold him. Now he’s very young. Seven months old. I don’t know if I still need to give him all the attention immediately, or maybe I can already have him cry for a while. But I can’t see him cry. I can’t. His face gets red. I can’t see him in distress. It’s hard.

Utilize technology but with supervision.

It’s good for you to be aware of that. I think that there’s a lot of parents that feel that same way. Every parent feels a certain amount of anxiety or discomfort when their child is upset about something. But for some people, it’s much harder to manage. It’s good for you to be aware of that because you can start to work on that, even with him at this young age. There’s a difference, especially when we’re talking about babies. In that first year and a half of development, there’s a difference between a baby who is crying because there is an important need to meet there. I’m in pain. I’m hungry, I’m tired, those kinds of things. There’s a difference between that, and I’m crying and squawking and screaming because I don’t like what’s happening now where I want you to come to pick me up. Now, I’m not suggesting that parents have seven-month-olds leave their kids to scream by themselves for long periods of time. No, of course not. But if you’re in the midst of cooking some breakfast there and you know that he’s just fine. He’s not hungry, and he’s not in pain. He just woke up from having a nice long sleep, and he wants you to stop what you’re doing to come over. It’s okay to talk to him.

He’s got me wrapped around his little finger, I’m telling you.

In some ways, that’s an evolutionary thing. That’s a good thing, right? It bonds us to them. But then sometimes also, we’re so uncomfortable with them feeling even a little bit of discomfort that we sacrifice everything about ourselves and what we’re doing to constantly drop everything to meet whatever need that they think they have at that moment. If he’s sitting right there, and you can see him, and you’re cooking, he’s crying, say, “Oh, I know you’re mad. Mommy’s over here. I’m cooking. This is going to be done in just a minute. I know you’re so angry.” You can also talk to him and sing or whatever, but you can also continue with what you’re doing.

I can? Really?

Go over, and you say, “Mommy’s done. And now I can pick you up. Let’s sit down and have some breakfast.” So you can still engage with him even at that age. “I know you’re so mad. Your face is turning red. You’re angry because mommy’s not coming to pick you up. I’ll be there in just a minute.” You can have that kind of conversation even with a baby and as they get older. With toddlers, “You’re so mad right now. I see that you’re very angry because you want me to get you out of the chair.” Or in the case of a preschooler, “You want me to give you ice cream for breakfast, and I won’t, and you’re really angry about that. And I see that. I’m going to sit down and have my breakfast. And if you decide to sit down and have breakfast with me, that would be great.” So we can acknowledge how they’re feeling. But we need to be careful about not rescuing them from those uncomfortable feelings. When we jump in constantly and rescue them from every little discomfort that they have emotionally, they never learn how to handle them for themselves. And they never grow to see that they can handle that. And we want our children to grow up seeing themselves as “I am a person who can handle things.” “I can handle my feelings, and I can be resilient.” So we have to be careful not to rescue them all the time because it makes us feel better.

With my baby, we either rock him to sleep, or I nurse him to sleep. Is that a bad thing?

If that’s working then, no, it’s not a bad thing. Sometimes parents will say, “If I’m not nursing him, he won’t fall asleep.” So then as they get older, you have to do some things around that. But now if what you’re doing is working and he’s sleeping well, I wouldn’t worry about it.

Thank you. Let’s go back to quarantine. How do you schedule your day? What’re your recommendations for having a schedule and bedtime routine?

Take this quarantine as an opportunity for us to slow down and spend more time together as families. Our kids will thank us one day for it. Click To Tweet

It depends on the age of the child. I recommend that families have some sort of rhythm and structure to their day, all the time, not just during this time of quarantine. It’s important that kids can have some predictable rhythms in their life such as getting up in the morning, having meals at predictable times, going to bed, at a fairly predictable time, having some activities during the day. So we want to have some structure because actually, the worst thing for children is just to have everything be chaos. Children thrive on having patterns and routines and structure. And that doesn’t mean we have to do the same thing every day. But it means that we have some rhythms. We get up around a certain time, and we have some routines that we do in the morning. We get up, use the bathroom, brush our teeth, maybe sit down, have breakfast, and get dressed. At nighttime, if it’s time to get ready for bed, we have some routines around that, right? Maybe we have a bath, put our pajamas on, read a book, or watch a show together, and then we get in bed, snuggle for a little bit, and go to sleep. We have some rhythms and routines. 

That’s important, especially now, to keep those general routines. It’s like I’m saying to my teenagers who I work with, and even my own teenagers at home, “Look, this is not just endless vacation time. You need to get up while it’s still morning. And you need to put some clothes on. You need to get out of your pajamas. You need to shower. You need to start your day. And then you need to eat throughout the day. And then you need to go to bed while it’s still night.” Because what happens is when we get into these really chronic kinds of unhelpful routines of staying up till three or four in the morning and then sleeping until two in the afternoon and just eat whatever whenever I think about it, though, those kinds of things are not helpful for children. They’re not helpful for adults. They really mess up not only how our brain is functioning, but also how our body is feeling and functioning. So finding some general rhythms and I think now that with the quarantine and schools being canceled, now that we know that that is going to be in place for longer, families can really start to look at “Okay? This is how long we’re going to be doing this. If we don’t have some structure, some rhythms, let’s put that in place now.” Because like for us here, kids aren’t going back to school until September. So this gives a lot of months now where we say, “Okay, well, how are we going to do this?” And let’s put some structure in place and parents have to manage their own needs too. They have work and things they need to do, and then those are times that children need to maybe be doing some independent activities or things like that. You need to put that schedule or that routine together in a way that works for everybody. But hopefully, that gives people some general helpful things to think about.

Yeah, it’s very helpful. Do you think that the future of education is going to be the same after this pandemic?

I hope not, actually. I’d love to think that this could be a real opportunity for a reset on a lot of the ways that we think about education in this country. While it’s wonderful that we value education and public education, we strive to make sure that every child in this country has the opportunity and access to education, which is important. But over the last 20 years or so, we have gotten so off track with what we prioritize in our educational systems, and it is not doing children any good. We have gone from allowing children at young ages to play and to learn from being outdoors and doing hands-on activities and all of those good things to now saying by the time you’re five. You need to be in kindergarten all day long. And you’re sitting at desks, and we give standardized tests from the time you’re little all the way up through high school. It’s terrible. 

We take away your recess, and you get one physical education class a week. We just have gotten to the point wherein trying to improve kids’ academic skills, we have totally dismantled childhood. None of it is appropriate when we look at how child development and brain development works. When we look at countries, who do an excellent job with this stuff, Finland and some of the European countries as an example, they don’t even start formal reading instruction for their children until they’re seven or eight years old. The reason is that they know that children at those earlier ages need a foundation of movement, and play, and hands-on learning and all of those things that allow their brain to have the foundation. 

Then when we do teach them to read, it comes very easily and naturally to them. And here in this country now, parents rush to get their children into full-time preschools by the time they’re three, where they’re sitting at desks and doing alphabet worksheets and learning to read. And what we’ve done is really created a situation where not only do children in this country, by and large, not enjoy learning because we’ve taken the joy out of it, but they’re having a lot of problems- learning problems, behavioral problems- because we are doing things that are working so against the normal patterns of development. So I would love to think, and I don’t know that it’s going to happen. 

But I’d love to think that this is an opportunity for us as a society, for our educational system to step back and go, “Okay. We have pressed pause now on the way that we do schooling because of this pandemic. How can we do better? What can we change? How can we do a reset here so that when our children go back to school, we’ve got a better situation for them?” I fear that there will be this rush come September, to try to cram even more things in to say, “You missed all of these months, we need to do more worksheets we need to learn.

You need to learn more about dead people, like, why? I’m from Israel, and we’re not as advanced as Finland, but we do get kids to start reading at six. And we don’t have preschool. At kindergarten, they play in the sandbox. They just play that that’s all they do. They play, and they play, and they learn about holidays, and they play. That’s all.

They learn how to get along with each other and learn how to deal with other kids when uncomfortable things happen. They learn to follow directions, and how to move their bodies, use their hands and their eyes together, and all of those things. But even when we look at teenagers, we look at what schooling is like. It’s no wonder so many preteens and teens are angry, depressed, inattentive, ADHD learning issues, it’s because we’re forcing them into an educational system that doesn’t support how a brain actually works. 

It’s like a not very good pressure cooker.

That’s exactly right. So this is an opportunity. I don’t know that we will do anything with this opportunity. But I’m optimistic that maybe even some schools will look at that because there’s a lot of teachers who know that the way they are being told to teach now is not good for kids. And to give teachers more control and power to provide classroom experiences than to educate kids in the way that they know is better for them. And if we can cancel all these ridiculous standardized tests across the country for this situation right now, guess what? We don’t ever have to bring them back.

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Amen to that. Awesome. Dr. Nicole, what are your three top tips to living a stellar life?

My three top tips to living a stellar life. Well, let’s see what we can come up with here. I think one thing is, I’ll speak about it from a parent perspective. How about that? I think one thing is to trust our gut instincts with our children, to not worry so much about what everybody else is doing with their kids or what all the books or the Guru’s and the experts say, but to realize that as moms and dads, we know our kids best, and we’ve got a good gut instinct with them and trusting ourselves. So that’s one piece. I think the second thing I would say is not to lose ourselves in the process of parenting. 

Parenting is the hardest, most challenging job any of us will ever do. And it’s easy to lose ourselves in that to focus so much on our children because we love them so much that we lose ourselves. It’s important to prioritize ourselves as well and to take care of ourselves and to do things that are healthy, and that feels good to us. So that’s the second thing. And the third thing I would say, especially in this time of this pandemic, and with all of everything going on, is for us to try to look for and recognize the many small moments of joy that exist throughout the day, within our families and with our children. Even on the days when everything seems upside down. And it seems like we have had our worst parenting day ever and the kids are screaming, everybody’s upset. Those days more than anything, we need to stop and pause and find those moments of joy; however small they may be, and to focus on those because they’re always there. No matter how challenging things get, we can always find those moments of joy, and I think now more than ever, it’s important to do that.

Life Will Get Better by Dr. Nicole Beurkens

That’s amazing. Where can people find you? Where can they get your book? How can they contact you?

My website is drbeurkens.com. I’ve got lots of resources there for parents and families, lots of free videos, articles, all kinds of things. My book is there as well. The most recent book for parents is called Life Will Get Better. And it is a book for parents about a lot of things parenting, but particularly for parents who have children with attention, anxiety, mood, or behavior challenges. It is a guidebook for them to implement simple things that make a big difference. So that’s available on my website or Amazon, along with several classes and other things I have there. 

So yeah, I’d love to have people stop by the website, and they can download a free guide about better behavior and improve some of the things that happen with kids in natural ways. And that’s free to anybody who comes in and wants that. And there’s a lot of Coronavirus resources there right now too. If people need support on how to talk to their children about this or how to manage the schooling, screen time, all of that, I’ve put together over the last few weeks, lots of resources. Those are right on the homepage right now.

Thank you so much, Dr. Nicole. I really appreciate you being here and sharing your wisdom with us.

Thank you for the opportunity. Great to talk with you.

Thank you. And thank you for listening. Remember to trust your gut instinct with your kids. Do not lose yourself in the process of parenting, and find moments of joy with your family every day and have a stellar life. This is Orion, ’til next time.

Your Checklist of Actions to Take

{✓} Let this quarantine be an opportunity for you and your kids to slow down. Instead of cramming days with homeschooling activities, find time to play, and enjoy this free time.
{✓} Don’t worry too much about your kids missing out on school because of the extended suspension. You can incorporate learning at home by letting them help with chores. For example, baking involves reading and math.
{✓} Help them stay connected with their friends while on lockdown. Aside from the homeschool Zoom sessions, schedule a time for them to video chat with their friends.
{✓} Utilize technology with proper supervision. Since everyone is required to stay indoors, screen time might slowly ramp up. However, this shouldn’t be an excuse to let children use their phones or tablets without supervision.
{✓} Remain composed and don’t let your kids feel your stress and anxiety. Whenever they sense an uncomfortable feeling from you, they can become anxious as well.
{✓} Encourage them to communicate how they’re feeling, even if it’s not a positive emotion. Let them feel their emotions are valid and accepted no matter what their current temperament is.
{✓} However, let children and even young adults know that it’s not okay to dwell in negative emotions for too long. It’s alright to be upset, but everyone should be mindful of their actions while in that emotional state.
{✓} Set boundaries and learn how to say no. Children need to hear the word “no” sometimes especially when it’s necessary. This will help them learn that the world is not always full of yeses and participation trophies.
{✓} Establish a clear structure or routine at home even when classes are canceled. Children need to have a system to their day to help them cope amidst the chaos that’s happening outside your home.
{✓} Grab a copy of Dr. Nicole Beurkens book, Life Will Get Better, and visit her website to access her free gift, The 5 Keys to Unlock Better Behavior, Naturally.

Links and Resources

About Dr. Nicole Beurkens

A unique combination of psychologist, nutritionist, and former teacher, Dr. Nicole Beurkens has 22 years of experience, supporting children and families to improve behavior naturally. She is the Founder and Director of Horizons Developmental Resource Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Dr. Nicole is a best-selling author, award-winning therapist, published researcher, and mom to 4 kids.

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