I am so excited to meet Dr Margot Sunderland at our event in May. She has influenced me as a parent and an educator for quite a few years now and I know that she will inspire you too. In this blog post I share a brief look at Dr Sunderland’s book, What Every Parent Needs to Know, to share a little of the light she has shone on my own experience as a parent and to whet your appetite for her speech and workshop at the upcoming 2022 Happy Healthy Conference Event.
Dr Margot Sunderland is co-founder and Director of Education and Training at The Centre for Child Mental Health London, and she has over thirty years’ experience as a child psychotherapist. Her life’s work has been to find the most effective ways of helping children and young people in distress and she is a passionate advocate of the healing power of the creative arts, when words are not enough.
In her book, What Every Parent Needs to Know, Dr Sunderland addresses issues such as separation, sleep and discipline in a way that makes the most cutting edge neuroscience and research accessible to ordinary folk like you and me. She explains the influence us parents have over the shaping of our children’s brains, exploring how we can “dramatically influence systems in their brains that are key to the potential for a deeply fulfilling life”. Who is not interested in that?!
Some of the main ideas that I have shaped my own parenting journey are how to give my children the gift of emotional regulation, the chemistry of human connection and how to have meaningful conversations with my children.
As a mother of a one year old and a five year old, these ideas have different applications which will of course change and evolve as my children grow. I too have shifting needs for my own wellbeing. In this book, Dr Sunderland not only helps me to reparent myself, but also to inject calm, tenderness, play, gentleness and kindness into my daily interactions with my children (and the students I teach). She explains how we, as adults in charge, can trigger three systems in children’s brains:
- The PLAY system – playful interaction, physical play
- The CARE system – responding with calm and helping to emotionally regulate the child
- The SEEKING system – modelling exploration, curiosity and creativity
and through these systems we can cause these emotional states to become personality traits. It’s mind-blowing really, to consider how we can shape our children’s lives through the choices we make moment to moment when we are with them.
I highly recommend this book to all parents and educators. These ideas are unpacked in such a way as to give practical tips and tools for the best and worst of us. I dip into this book when it all becomes too much, when connection feels difficult and our family feels tense. I use this book when I find a rare moment of calm, waiting in the car before the school drop off or in an even rarer moment with a cup of coffee on a quiet morning, just to reflect on where I am as a parent and how I can respond more peacefully both to my own needs and those of my children.
One of the most powerful tools I use to help me is to pause and breathe before responding to that 5.30am wake up call or the screaming toddler clinging to my leg in the kitchen when I’m trying to make dinner after a challenging day at work. I remind myself that my children want connection first and foremost, they crave relationship with me. A pause and a deep breath help me to assess my own needs in the moment, to help me respond with playfulness, love and calm.