Episode 046 – Challenges our children are facing today, parenting tips, making your child’s journey through adolescence safer, kinder, better supported and more with Kim McCabe
Episode 046 – Challenges our children are facing today, parenting tips, making your child’s journey through adolescence safer, kinder, better supported and more with Kim McCabe
A lot of talk has taken place in the media around how children and teenagers are being impacted by current events – COVID, political news, climate change, technology disruption and more.
Which has led to our children – being cooped up at home, having a disrupted education, feeling socially isolated, and feeling general anxiety about the future – however, not a lot is spoken about the way in which we can take care and support our children during this time.
The reality is, COVID has just magnified the issue. The sad reality is, this issue isn’t new.
To help Dr Ro & Harminder navigate this subject (who are both parents themselves) we’re fortunate to be joined by a special guest who’s an child expert and has been working in this field for over 30 years:
Kim McCabe, author of ‘From Daughter to Woman, parenting girls safely through their teens’, child expert interviewed on BBC and Sky News, and founder of Rites for Girls CIC –– sets out to remind parents, and especially mothers, that they hold the key to making a girls’ journey through adolescence safer, kinder and better supported.
At Rites for Girls, Girls Journeying Together groups provide mutual support for girls through adolescence and proudly into young womanhood guided by a facilitator while also supporting the girl’s mothers. In girls’ groups around the world monthly support is offered to preteen girls as they practice being true to themselves, learn about puberty, share their hopes and fears, and help each other into their teens.
Training women to facilitate Girls Journeying Together groups gives women a way to make a difference. Trainees become ‘the woman needed by the 11-year-old they once were’ and are provided with meaningful work that fits around other commitments, enabling them to serve in a diverse range of cultures bringing back the power of community in a way that appeals to today’s girls.
Women unite to transform girls’ experience of growing up giving every child a community of support to grow up and become the best version of themselves.
Kim says, ‘We can each make a difference; we can make the world a better place. Creating community and circles of support, adults taking responsibility for guiding tomorrow’s women, a grounded revolution changing the world for everyone.’
Kim McCabe helped our discussion by answering the following questions:
What was Kim’s journey leading up to the point of running international workshops for girls and parents?
What are the biggest challenges that young girls are facing today?
How are young girls generally dealing with these challenges and the changes that are happening around them?
As a parent it is sometimes difficult to interpret what our children are thinking or going through. It’s fair to say that most parents lack the tools and understanding of how to communicate or relate to their teenage daughters.How did you approach this when developing Rite For Girls, what have you found works best to bridge this gap and were the parents open to the process?
From a fathers point of view and we are sure we speak for other fathers as this is a really difficult and sensitive area. What are some simple steps that dads listening can do to start to understand their young/teenage daughters?
Let’s talk about Kim’s book “From Daughter to Woman”? The book goes right to the heart of the challenges and discussions that occur for all parents with young girls from puberty right through to the need for support and group interaction. Tell us more about the book and how it can benefit our readers who are parents.
Amidst the turmoil of COVID Kim set up Parenting Workshops – Kim describes the challenges parents are facing right now and what they can do to combat some of these.
And so much more
To connect with Kim McCabe and discover her book, workshops and Rite For Girls mission:
Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/RitesForGirls
Affiliate disclaimer: NO links on this page or products discussed during the episode have an affiliate or advertising association with the Seekardo Show. Please support us via the supporter programme if you wish to help.
Harms: Hello it’s Harms here and welcome to another episode of the Seekardo show.
I’m going to paint a slightly dark picture as we introduce this, but as we go through the episode I’m hoping that we come into the light. Right now a lot of talk has taken place in the media around how children and our teenagers are being impacted by current events.
At time of recording we’ve got the coronavirus floating through the world and what’s been spoken about the media specifically is how this has led to our children being cooped up at home, disrupted education, being socially isolated from their friends, cousins, other family members.
But what’s not spoken about enough, if at all is how can we take care and support our children during this time the reality is Covid has magnified the issue, but the sad reality is that the issue isn’t new. It’s been around for a very long time, which we shall discover today. To help us navigate the subject we’re fortunate to be joined by a special guest who is a child expert and has been working in this field for many years.
Dr Ro: Thank you Harms and thank you for joining us on today’s podcast.
I am again excited, but even more excited because actually Kim is a neighbor of mine. Within throwing distance of where we live, which is amazing to have somebody with her stature and an experience but also globally such reached to be in the community that we have is a real privilege. That’s really how I came to be able to invite her on today, but let me give you a full introduction first and then I’ll soften it a little bit with my experience of what I know about Kim.
Kim is the founder and director of Rites for Girls, which is a community interest company and a mother of three, which I think is important for those of you listening as sometimes we hear people out there that teach and talk about the subject, but they’re not actually experiencing it themselves they are just doing it from knowledge.
We’re talking about someone that has had a lot of experience as a mother and she’s the author of from daughter to woman parenting girls safely through their teens. From daughter to woman think about that even as a statement parenting girls safely through their teens and I’ve got a daughter who is 12 and that’s another reason that I’m connected through to Kim because she attends one of the groups.
This transition is an unbelievably volatile period for a child, but the parents as well know how to manage it. Over the years Kim’s experience has led her to become a child expert interviewed by the BBC, Sky News, she studied child psychology at Cambridge University, was a counsellor to young people and taught sex education in schools and youth groups.
She also is trained as an assertive trainer and five rhythms shamanic dance teacher which, for those of you that don’t know what that means maybe she can explain it a bit later on. We are in a community whereby the way where we live there are so many great people with different experiences and when you bring these together with Kim’s experience and bring that into the teaching environment, it brings a whole new dynamic and added to that, she’s also operated as a business management consultant.
In her 20s, Kim worked as a counsellor to distressed teenagers, girls were harming themselves physically and mentally and she promised herself at a young age and I think this is where people define their purpose quite early that she wanted to find a way to equip girls so that they could end up not endangering themselves and their well-being, which I think we’re seeing more often.
After 30 years of working with young people Kim developed a way to give girls a robust support system, a method they could use both with their parents and themselves needed to see them through their teen years, which I know when I grew up there was none of that. I think there’s almost a blindness to this we were just left to trundle through on our own. In 2011, Kim founded Rites for Girls to help girls from the age of 10 right through into their early 20s I suspect even older than that now knowing that she’s working parents as well.
In 2018, Kim published her book from daughter to woman parenting girls safely through their teens and we have an organic farm very close to where I live and the first time I became aware of it actually was a couple years ago now walking through and seeing a little card there on the desk and I picked it up and I thought I need to read this.
That’s really how I started to become aware of it, although I’d heard whispers and rumours amongst the community because Kim is very well known around here. In the girls groups around the world monthly support is offered to preteen girls as they practice being true to themselves, learn about puberty, share their hopes and their fears and help each other in their teens and my daughter is going through that experience now.
So for me it’s really close to my heart with Kim and one of our local groups.
Kim can also trains women around the world now so if you’re listening to this and you’re a woman who may be interested in this it may be worth reaching out to Kim afterwards, she trains around the world to facilitate the girls journeying together groups.
I would like to finish with a quote from Kim, “we can each make a difference. We can make the world a better place, creating community in circles of support. Adults taking responsibility for guiding tomorrow’s women grounding revolution changing the world for everybody.”
On a personal note, I want to just say that Kim the things I hear about you from other parents and I’ve got a friend of mine quite close who went through journey with her daughter about a year and a half ago, all I hear are positive things and the fact that you’re so grounded you bring a world of knowledge, but you just wear your heart out there and everything you do is about adding value and giving people a chance to make a transformation.
I just want to thank you for being around in this world and for bringing such a great message to our young children. Kim McCabe over to you, nice to have you here.
Kim: Thank you, it’s really my pleasure and to hear you speak about my life like that don’t I sound amazing?
Dr Ro: You are and I think it’s not easy to describe ourselves and myself and Harms feel that it’s important to explain about somebody without you having to do it so that people know just how great you are.
I think for everyone listening one of the lovely things about Kim is if you have a conversation with her there is this nature in hers to want to impart some sort of wisdom that she’s had in a way that gives you a chance to go away feeling a better person.
That’s the sense I get and we spoke yesterday we ended up having to break the call because we almost got into a podcast. What would be lovely is would you take us on a bit of a journey how you got to this place.
Kim: As many long journeys start it starts with pain.
I wasn’t a comfortable little girl. I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin and I came from a relatively ordinary family, but of course there are aspects in which I didn’t get the parenting that I really needed and out of that came a real difficulty for me in growing up to becoming a woman. I felt like I didn’t really want to become a woman.
I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to be, but it certainly wasn’t who I was. I was in kind of conflict with myself and that’s where the journey started, my own personal journey into womanhood and as you said, I made a promise to myself back in my 20s after I’d studied psychology at Cambridge and trained to be a counsellor for teens I realised I was not alone.
It was a very difficult journey to make I think from being a child to being an adult. We’ve lost that puberty rite of passage, we’ve lost the support that used to be given to children as they made that journey from child to adult.
We’ve still got some of the other rites when a child is born we celebrate that and when someone joins up with someone else in union in their adult life we celebrate that and then of course when someone dies, we acknowledge that, but the rite of passage that used to be given the most time and attention within the community is the puberty rite and that’s the one that’s largely been lost. It’s still there in some religions, so I navigated that phase of my life not very well and I want to change that.
One in four of our teenage girls by the age of 14 are self-harming, that’s 100,000 girls just in the UK and that’s got to change and we can change that, the adults we can do that. Parents and you don’t have to even be a parent if you have a child in your life who you care about you can make an enormous difference to that child in very small, simple ways.
I guess it’s my own experience that got me thinking about how this can be different and it wasn’t until I had my own children and realised that parenting is really hard. I was making some of the same mistakes that I had kind of accused my own parents of and realised that actually parents need support too, to be able to do this really important job of raising the next generation.
It wasn’t till 2011 that I began to pull into place all the things that I’d learnt both at university from my own life and being a mother to create something which is preventative work. It’s starting with the children before they run into problems and, of course, as a parent we’re all ideally placed for that because we’ve got them from the very start of their lives and our influence is huge, which I don’t want to feel like a burden.
You know, of course, there is a huge pressure on parents to get it right and to be perfect and there’s nothing worse than a perfect parent. Who wants a perfect parent? What kind of pressure would that be as a child?
You can’t then mess up as a child if you’ve got perfect parents so we don’t have to be perfect, but we certainly have got huge influence and there’s lots of things that we can do and say that will help our children on their journey into adulthood.
Dr Ro: Just on a personal level when you went through that journey yourself what were some of the values and beliefs that you embodied to make you stronger?
You had to develop your own coping mechanism. Are any of those things you carry forward in your teaching?
Kim: It’s every adult’s journey to learn how to parent yourself. You learn from your own parents some really important things about how to take care of yourself, however good or bad your parents are, however well-equipped they were to pass those things on we all learn some good things and some not so good things about how to take care of ourselves as adults.
Then our journey from there is to make up for the bits that weren’t so well done to learn how to take care of ourselves even better, and the bit of ourselves that haven’t perhaps been taken such good care of and we don’t do so naturally, how to then take that on is our job as adults, to give ourselves what we need to be very best person that we can be in this life, to realise ourselves, to do what we want to do in the world to have the kind of relationships that we want to have.
Ultimately the starting point is to take the very best care of ourselves.
Dr Ro: I think the challenge for a lot of parents is that as we grow up we can only a lot of the time leverage off the experience we had as a young person, so our parents beliefs, rules and values often become embedded into us in the first five or six years and a lot of that carries all the way through.
I think if you go back 30, 40 years, 50 years people weren’t really equipped with the level of consciousness that we have today, I do think that we are becoming more conscious today. It’s whether people are picking up those tools and using them.
Kim: Our children are our teachers.
Our children will tell us when we are getting it wrong.
Dr Ro: So true, they’re more vocal today.
Just on a personal level I grew up in the 60s and my father passed away when I was 13 years of age and I watched my mum literally cope through two jobs and she didn’t have any of this guidance that you offer to people today. I know there must have been a frustration in her because she had three boys.
I can relate to some of the things you’re saying because I found myself as I grew up being like a sponge trying to be bringing new tools into my own being to learn, are you finding at the moment that young children are more open to that?
Is it something that they want and I know we’ve got social media there is a lot of information coming at kids, but do you think that as we go into this conversation about what you’re doing, do you think children are more open to it or do they feel like they’re being pushed into wanting to learn these things?
Kim: I think it’s the adult’s job first. I think it’s our job as adults to learn how to live better first, kids will just copy.
Children are like sponges and the way that they learn is they copy us. So actually the very best way that we can pass on to our children what we want them to know is not to tell them but to show them and I do think adults today are more receptive and more open to learning about how to take good care of themselves and how to be in the world how they want to be.
There’s more guidance available, but that said, because there’s more guidance available it can be overwhelming. Conflicting advice, who do you follow?
There’s this self-help book and there’s that podcast and there’s that course that you can do and we have to learn to be discerning, we have to learn to trust our gut instincts as to what resonates with us, what speaks to one person is going to be different from what someone else needs to hear and to learn, so we have to really trust ourselves to seek out the way that we need to support ourselves in our adult lives and in our parenting journey.
Now we’ve got a capture of your journey so far just diving into the topic at hand, what are the biggest challenges that you’ve personally seen with your coaches and team around you that young girls are facing today?
It may be specifically around the current situation but like I said in the introduction my gut feel is that this isn’t new this has been on for a long time. What are the biggest challenges you’ve seen?
Kim: I think things are harder for all children growing up today than it was for us when we were growing up.
The statistics bear that out too. ChildLine last year said that they got an increase of 30% in calls from children with increased anxiety, that is just anxiety. So the pressures that children are under are greater I believe than we were under and some of that is academic pressure. It seems that schools are under greater pressure to perform and so therefore they pass that on to the children.
There’s also greater financial pressure which feeds through to children the importance of doing well at school so that they can then do well at their work.
For me as a teenager I never thought about my finances, but children I’m talking to now are worrying already about being able to afford to live and then of course there is social media, so they are open to the whole kind of world, and some of it is a wonderful world. I don’t believe it is all negative. But being able to navigate that world when your parents don’t necessarily know how to pass that onto you is an additional pressure, so it is harder growing up today.
I think there are greater pressures and so we are seeing in our children an increase in mental health concerns with the boys. It tends to be acted out, so we see the boys getting drunk, using drugs, getting violent, and getting into crime. With the girls, what concerns me about girls is it tends to be turned inwards more so it goes more into the self-harm into how they think about themselves.
All kinds of self-harming behaviour, whether it be through their eating, cutting, use again of alcohol or drugs having sex they don’t want to really be having, not taken good care of themselves. So that’s how it’s showing up, but I’m not despairing. I actually feel very positive about our future generations.
They are also incredibly eloquent, they’re more in touch with themselves perhaps and of course they’ve got us, they’ve got us adults who are also more self-aware. There’s more out there to help them and there’s more out there for us parents to help us in our parenting job.
Dr Ro: I recently spoke to somebody who discovered that her daughter wasn’t eating properly and in fact for two, three weeks if not more, for listeners who may be either blind or just not aware of it or as an adult trying to deal with the current situation in terms of their own finances and sometimes as we know people are working hard to look at that and they’re taking the eye off the ball with the kids.
What are the more subtle signs that parents could be looking for particularly with the daughters for self-harm or indication that they may be moving into that space of self-harm, is there anything you can share with us that might help the listeners look for now.
Kim: First off forgive yourself.
If your child is not happy, it’s not your fault as the parent. With the world as it is now there’s increased anxiety all around girls, boys, men, women and it’s a natural and actually reasonable, rational response to what’s going on now.
We’re all unsettled, scared, all of us our routines, habits and normal ways of coping have been disrupted, so it’s not surprising that both adults and children are showing up with more signs of mental distress. We are seeing in the work that I’m doing in the work for Rites for Girls a massive increase in signs of increased anxiety in the girls and in the online parenting courses that I’m doing I’m hearing about it from parents about both the boys and their girls.
Thinking about the girls though and you asked about self-harm, how do you spot it. Well you are the expert on your child. There is no one in the world he knows your child better than you so trust yourself and trust your instincts. You get that parenting feeling when they’re really little and everything goes quiet and you think hang on a minute let me check this out.
Well, there’s that version in the teen years as well when you just get that feeling that shutting themselves in their bedroom or whatever it is that just gives you that gut feeling as a parent and all is not well, trust it and then follow it up. It depends on the relationship that you have with your child and whether you can just bowl in and just say hey what’s up I don’t feel like things are right or whether it’s more kind of you’re sat down in front of the telly and you choose to watch a film that has something in it of the concerns that you have, whether it be drinking and eating and then can talk about it about someone else, rather than it being so directly personal to your child. But the first thing is, children are just the same as adults.
Any change in their sleeping patterns or their eating patterns or their mood is an indicator to you that things maybe aren’t right.
Equally don’t get super stressed and anxious if there is a change right now because I think there is with everybody and the key thing then is to provide opportunities for your child to express how they’re feeling, so that they feel like there’s an outlet. Every child is different. Some children are talkers and some are not.
This is something I hear from parents, they struggle when their child expresses themselves differently from them. They’ll say I tried to talk to her and she just said she was fine, maybe that’s not the way maybe you sit down and listen to music together and you put on some really angry music or really sad music.
A lot of a lot of children don’t yet have the vocabulary or the experience to put into words how they’re feeling, but they can do it in other ways.
They’ll act out and they’ll show us how they’re feeling in some way or another and often as a parent, your best guide is how your child’s behaviour makes you feel because children often can’t tell us, but they’ll show us, and if we end up feeling really frustrated with them chances are they’re feeling really frustrated.
Dr Ro: Which is sometimes a reaction. If they start changing or putting pretty loud music on the parents natural reaction is to turn it off.
There’s the suppression of that feeling.
Kim: Exactly go and sit down with them and turn the volume up and say what is it about this music that you like and let me play you another piece I played when I was young, what do you think of this?
Harms: We’ve captured the subtle signs, we spoke about two extremes.
One is getting to the point of self-harm and the other is where does it start? It could be the change in habit, routine, mood.
Now before girls and maybe the conversation you have with them when the teenage girls come to how they are generally dealing with these challenges on their own and with the changes happening around them? Because the anxiety is coming from somewhere whether it’s news headlines on social media saying young people will never be able to own their own home things like that.
But how are you seeing the way girls are dealing with the situation maybe with or without help.
Kim: Happily I think it’s more recognised in our culture and schools are bringing some of their stuff. Even more brilliant, the girls are amazing.
I actually start working with them in their preteens 10 or 11 years old when they’re in year six and in our girls journey together groups we actually support that transition from primary to secondary school and as the heading into puberty.
One of the first things we do with the girls and it’s a thread that runs right through the year. We meet monthly so that the girls get a feel of what monthly feels like, and through that year of meeting monthly one of the threads that runs through is often getting the girls to share with each other what they do when they feel overwhelmed by their big feelings.
Here’s another thing: preteens and teens whether they’re boys or girls, their brains are changing so they feel their feelings more acutely than you or I do and more intensely than they used to. Now that’s really confusing for them and quite frightening actually, but also of course anyone who is parenting them because suddenly your little girl who seemed to play happily and like herself, suddenly hates herself burst into tears at the moment and tells you you’re ruining her life.
They’re feeling things more intensely and importantly we don’t belittle their feelings and to understand that not having the right dress for the party really does mean that they can’t go to the party. They’re faced with increased intensity of their feelings without yet the tools to know how to manage them. So that’s one of the things we do in girls journeying together group is share with them lots and lots of different tools because what works with one girl won’t work for another.
We just give them lots of different tools, but one of the most powerful experiences they have is whenever something comes up, maybe one time we start the group and someone’s dog has just died or granny is ill whatever we may have planned for that session we park for a moment and we all talk about, okay, so who else has had that experience and how does it feel and how did you manage?
The girls share with each other what has worked for them and I’ve learned some stuff. I’ve got one girl who said whenever she feels anxious in her tummy she gets the cat and she climbs into the airing cupboard and sits there with the cat.
The girls start to realise they’re not alone, because that’s something else they’ll feel they feel like there’s something wrong with them, that they suddenly feel more weepy or more furious or more anxious, but when they hear that the other girls feel the same way, then that kind of normalises, and makes them realise there’s nothing wrong with them. But also they share with each other some of the quirky and unusual, but also often very clever things that they do. It might be that they just get into bed under the duvet and read a book.
A parent needs to recognise that might be a child self-soothing it might not be a child avoiding doing homework or tidying their room or washing up whatever it is you want them to do, they might actually be doing their very best job just coping with being themselves in the moment.
Dr Ro: That’s a very interesting point actually because as a parent, we have our own framework.
We have a map of the world in our mind of how their behaviour represents what it represents to us, but as you’re saying there it could be completely different. It’s a subtle form of coping mechanism or soothing mechanism for that child.
Savannah, my daughter, is attending and it’s really interesting because what you’re doing is you’re allowing girls to come together that are not necessarily part of the normal social group, are they opening up in a different way do you think than they might do in a group they’re already attached to?
Normally I welcome the girls into my sitting room and we sit actually piled up, squished up on my sofa but we have internationally at Rites for Girls we’ve adapted every single session to be able to run socially distanced.
We do now have to operate in venues and the girl set on little girl islands 2 m apart and we are still able to do all the work that we would normally do in my front room, but not so cosy and not so intimate but nevertheless absolutely, the girls come from all kinds of different backgrounds, different schools, different families, some home educated and I think given a great freedom because they’re not going to see each other at school the next day.
Some of the girls will know each other and get to know each other in a totally different way because right from the very start we decide how we can make this a place where everybody feels like they can fit in just exactly as they are. They don’t have to change anything about themselves in order to belong to girls journeying together group.
And for lots of girls they don’t have that experience anywhere else in their lives and so we work very hard at not judging each other, letting everybody be who they are. Even now we are only one quarter of the way through the group and girls start turning up in their onesies because I was cold or I couldn’t be bothered to get dressed.
But what’s really important is that they can come however they feel whatever mood they’re in and I will always find I have girls in my group who are somewhere along the spectrum, and they are really accepted.
I’ve had girls come to me at the end of the year with arms crossed and looking quite cross with me saying I like girls I never thought I’d like, because they practice being really kind to each other and they practice listening to each other with a kind of curiosity rather than fear which is where the judgement comes from.
In experiencing that themselves they’re doing it for themselves too, they’re practising being curious about themselves and not judging themselves, so it’s a very powerful experience and we get deep very, very quickly, even by session two we’ll have life stories coming out in tears and rage and for the girls to feel safe too. I’ve got some girls who may hardly speak throughout the whole year but that is also okay, it’s really okay to be an introvert. I think there’s so much pressure on children to speak out and to be extroverted.
Dr Ro: Especially with social media these days.
Kim: It’s really important that they feel that they can be quiet if that’s how they feel and you know girls will feedback to them as we celebrate each girl in the month of her birthday and we tell her what we think of her and it’s quite interesting that sometimes the quieter girls will hear like when you talk I know to shut up because when you speak, which isn’t very often you say some really good stuff.
Harms: If there are any teenage girls listening to this right now specifically, the teenage girls listening, what message can you share with them about just how they’re feeling?
Because you’ve highlighted some of the amazing experiences that have happened in your group, but what’s a message to teenage girls listening to this episode right now?
Kim: To the teenage girls life is really shit sometimes and it’s really hard and your parents are going to mess up, but they love you and they’re doing their best and sometimes the best won’t be good enough so look for other adults that can also be there for you.
Just know that it’s going to get easier. The teenage years are tough. It’s true.
What you are experiencing is normal, but it’s not easy and there are adults around you who can help you through and your friends. Of course, your friends are going through it too they’re not always the best people to turn to because they’re not always the wisest and they don’t always have your best interest at heart.
That’s where parents can be quite good because they really do love you, but there are other adults too, don’t try and do this alone and don’t for a minute think there’s anything wrong with you. If you’re feeling a bit rubbish and it will get easier.
Dr Ro: That’s a lovely message.
Harms: I’ve got tears in my eyes because I wish I had that in my teens.
Kim: It is some of the most exciting times too, parenting a teenager is really exciting because as teenagers you push us to the limits you get us to question things.
Things that we have been taking for granted, it’s your job to question everything and as a parent that might feel challenging for us but you know what it’s such a gift to have a young person in our lives who is thinking who am I and what is life about?
You’re refreshing, you’re reminding us about what the important things are in life and it is exciting and life is a big adventure and go out there and explore it and be yourself and find out who that is by messing up by making mistakes.
There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes, but just make sure you learn from your mistakes and being with a teenager having a teenager in your life is so exhilarating.
Dr Ro: There is a lesson there for us adults as well, making mistakes. I’m going to ask you a question about Rites for Girls from a parenting perspective.
I know sometimes it’s difficult as a parent myself to interpret what my daughter is thinking. I think it’s fair to say in all honesty that most parents lack the tools we’re not naturally brought up and educated on this on understanding how to communicate and relate to our teenage children, particularly our daughters. I remember as a lad three of us we’d just go out rough-and-tumble, climb trees, let our steam off, I see a different experience with my own daughter.
How did you approach this as you developed Rites for Girls?
Kim: Rites for Girls partly came out of my eldest boy. I overheard him talking about mums and mothers and what they do and I was horrified because he talked about cooking and cleaning and driving children places and I kind of thought, no, no, no, no, I don’t want you to think that’s what a woman’s life is.
I realised that I needed to be doing something in my life that was in addition to mothering that was more than parenting, something that was out there in the world and fulfilling for me. He was home educated too so really my life did look like it was orientated around him so that’s where I started to think about doing something.
I have to say Rites for Girls was born out of a very, very sad event.
Our fourth child was born and died and it was one of the most painful times in my life and I realised that I had love in my heart for a little baby that I could no longer hold in my arms and I needed to be able to channel that love somewhere.
I have so much love and affection for children, not so much babies, but preteens and teens. That’s where my heart lies and I just thought, okay, I had some mothering energy here that now has nowhere to go and I need to do something with this and that’s really where Rites for Girls was born.
You talked about how parents know what their children are feeling and thinking and I want you to trust that you do know three things, first of all, you were that age yourself once.
You were a preteen you were a teenager, whatever the age of your child you’ve been there, sometimes just spending a moment taking yourself back there and for many people that might be a bit painful and so we resist it. But when you’re parenting a child it can be really useful to spend a bit of time remembering back to how it was for you at that age as it will give you some insight into perhaps where your own child might be.
But don’t for a minute think your child needs what you need.
They are a separate and different person so that’s where the second thing comes in which is that you are the expert on your child you’ve known them their whole life, you’ve been studying them and their behaviour has been speaking to you their whole life through.
They don’t always speak to you in the kindest and nicest ways, but you’ve been on a training course on your child since the moment they were born, and finally something actually that I really do recommend and it actually takes up the whole of the first chapter of my book, which is to spend special time with your child individually. If you’ve got more than one child to take each child in turn and spend individual special time outside of ordinary life.
A lot of parents feel like they spend a lot of time with their children and of course you do, but it’s not in this more kind of relaxed and focused and fun way in the book because the book is about raising girls I call it a mother-daughter date, it doesn’t have to be a mother and it doesn’t have to be a daughter.
It can be an adult, child time and in fact at Rites for Girls we’ve now created diaries either a mother-daughter date diary and we’ve just produced a me and you time diary which is unisex. That’s for any adult and child pairing. It’s kind of treating it like a date so you plan it ahead not just you.
We parents are often keepers of the diary we might have in mind on Sunday. I’ve got an afternoon off. I can maybe do that, but something else comes up and you end up not doing it, but it doesn’t matter because the child didn’t know you had that in mind.
The point about this is that you both plan it together so you both get to anticipate it and look forward to it just like a date and then you don’t cancel it, you honour it and if it does need to be postponed you find another time and it doesn’t have to be a big thing.
It can just be stopping off on the way home and at the moment we are in lockdown. So let’s think about the lockdown dates. It can be making some popcorn and choosing something you want to watch and doing that together, just the two of you in a room together.
Or it could be getting into the kitchen and kind of saying okay right we’re going to create a three course meal together with menus and waitressing, and doing that, together. It’s got the kind and quality of the date, it’s especial, you both make an effort and just the same as on the date you wouldn’t choose that time to nag or question them about things that they don’t necessarily want to talk about.
It’s really about kind of having precious time together creating rituals together because, then if you do that once a month what that does is it opens up the lines of communication and that will carry you through the teen years.
If whatever’s happening in your life even if you feel like your teen does not deserve it, you still go on that date and I know that my daughter saves up things sometimes to talk to me about knowing that she’s going to get that opportunity.
But because we also have these dates she’ll sometimes call a date and say I need a mini date day now. It’s a way in which we are able to kind of stay in touch and there are certain things where she’s got the right to ban certain things on a date like no we’re not talking about that.
This is a date.
Dr Ro: As you’re talking being a parent of two I already know, by the way this experience because Stina and Savannah have gone off and had a couple of dates together in the Scandinavian style dates, so I understand what Kim is sharing here because they’ve been working through the workshops and the program.
This is also then really about parents starting to raise their level of consciousness about being aware of when they are unconsciously dismissing a commitment to a child.
That one little promise that’s broken might not seem like a big promise but it’s a bit like felling an oak tree, you can’t out fell it with one big cut of the axe but lots of little cuts lots of promises broken really do affect the way the child perceives the relationship with us as a parent. I’ve seen this in couples relationships as well.
So when we make a promise it really is important to keep that to our children.
Kim: And at the same time, I think we parents are under so much pressure to provide so much for our children and it’s really important that we give ourselves a break.
Sometimes in particular at the moment for those parents who are now working from home, everyone’s at home, so the domestic life there’s much more work thereto, and the children now at the moment are at home and we’re trying to kind of help them do some sort of education or keep some sort of routine and rhythm going in their lives.
We are under a lot of pressure, so we need to actually in some ways scale back what we’re expecting of ourselves. Scale back what you’re expecting, and then do what little you can do really well.
Don’t try to be all things to all people don’t try and be everything for your child. Children need more than just one or two parents to raise them. They need a whole village and so calling the auntie’s and the godparents and the grandparents and whoever your child seems to form a special connection to, these days we have a kind of cultural taboo in interfering in the raising of someone else’s child.
If you want to give your child additional adults in their lives, which is going to be a bonus so that they have mentors other people that they can go to when actually you’re not the right person, we have to invite those adults, we as the parents have to give permission to those other adults. Whilst we might not quite like the influence of that auntie or that neighbour it’s perhaps recognising that they do bring something different and is a kind of rich tapestry mosaic that our children need lots of different adults.
I really want us as parents not to feel like we’ve got to do this job on our own and it’s something that we also need to help each other with and that’s something that the girls journeying together groups do that are powerful.
Because at the same time as I meet with the girls or any of our girls for Rites facilitators around the country around the world meet the girls, the mothers also sit in a circle and meet. Because when your child is young, you can meet at the school gates or you sit in the soft play area and parents naturally can support each other. They just chat and you get support, but once you get into the preteen and teen years and your child can get to places on their own and you don’t have to hang around while they’re doing it.
Parents and actually lose that incidental support that we give each other and so we actually need to look for it. We need to make sure that we’ve got other adults in our lives, other parents, particularly parents a bit further down the journey then we are so we can go to them and say this has just come up. How did you manage this? How did you cope with this? We’re not necessarily going to have all the answers and know automatically just because we love our child.
We do actually need to find out when we get stuck and not feel like we have to pretend that we know more than we do or pretend that we are coping better than we do.
All parents have times when they are completely flummoxed by the parenting job and don’t know what to do and it’s okay to reach out and talk to other people or look for a book or course, whatever way works for you.
Harms: On that note, culturally are there certain cultures that you’ve observed or parents can most investigate or learn from because coming from an Asian background, that rich tapestry, that community, that concept of a second or third or fourth uncle or aunt.
Everyone is an uncle or auntie and in that dynamic yes, actually as a child as a teenager, grow up and all these adults become your uncles and aunts and with that title you feel like there is different support and different lessons to learn from. I experienced that growing up with lots of uncles and aunts doesn’t matter what the relation was as such, the very fact that they were in the community I personally saw as a great benefit.
Parents who may be removed from that or haven’t been raised like that culturally what can they do to re-enter these cultures?
Kim: Copy the cultures that are getting it right in this respect, and talk to people.
Talk to other adults about what their experience was of growing up in their culture, whatever their culture was and if you hear or see of anything that you think is beneficial bring that into your life. In our culture we have to work at it a bit, you know, we have to maybe bring in the family friend and make sure that they get asked round for dinner regularly so that your child continues to have a living relationship with them.
But equally we’ve got technology now. So even if you’ve got family around the world that your child might not see in the flesh very often, make sure that when you talk to your mum their grandmother or your sister their auntie or your brother, their uncle get them on the phone too, so that there is a living, breathing relationship there, so that when they feel a bit older and maybe need to turn to someone else who they know loves and cares about them, but actually isn’t quite so very close, they’ve got other people that they feel they can talk to and give your child permission too as well.
Because a lot of children feel like they are betraying us if we say bad if they say bad things about us, so I often say to my children, you know, look my sister grew up with me she knows what’s brilliant about me, but she also knows what’s really not very good about me, so it’s really fine if you tell her about what a horrible mother I’ve been you won’t be telling her anything she doesn’t already know and she knows that you love me as well, so it’s okay tell her.
Dr Ro: It’s amazing actually what I overhear my youngest daughter say things to my mother and there are conversations about what’s been going on and a six-year-olds what they see is what they say, there’s no filter it’s beautiful to hear.
I love this idea of the dates the mother-daughter or the parent, child date for those parents that are thinking we’ve got two kids or three kids. What guidance can be given for how to manage that conversation so that it doesn’t feel like one is getting preferential treatment?
Because it does need to be a little bit of parental management, okay if you take the teenage daughter then I’ll look after the other two or the other one, that’s how we’ve managed it. I’ve had my day with Liv, for example, whilst Stina has gone off with Savannah, are there any tips here?
Kim: Don’t get overwhelmed, don’t think that you have to do big massive dates, do one big data. Do one big outing a year that’s really special.
My daughter her favourite date used to be before lockdown used to be me and her going down the high street visiting all the charity shops and we had one rule, we could only buy one thing and one thing had to be either something that we could give away to somebody. It had to be something that we knew someone needed or it had to be something that we would use on the date.
I remember one time we bought this item, I didn’t know what it was I had to Google it in the shop and it was actually a waffle maker, so we bought that and then we went to the supermarket bought the ingredients and came home and made these waffles and fed everybody and that was her favourite date.
Just going charity shop shopping with me partly as she knows I hate shopping so she knew this was something I was really doing out of deep love for her because I was not in my comfort zone. I was not in my happy place. She was very much in her happy place.
I used to go around the country talking to parents and this question would always come up people would say, I’ve got four children could I take the girls on the same day and I was like, would you take your partner and then bring another man or woman along and say, well, actually I’m short on time can I bring them too? No you don’t.
Obviously you can’t do four big dates a month, so divvy it up between the parents. Whether you live together or not.
Hopefully you’re coparenting in some way and if that’s not your situation, every child needs a same sex adult and an opposite sex adult in their lives. If they’re not their actual parent just make sure that you’ve got somebody of the same sex and the opposite sex in your child’s life and then divvy it up between the two of you, like you say I’ll take all the other children if you have this one.
The thing about it being fair, I’m one of four children and I know my parents tried really hard to make things fair and the way they did that was by trying to make it equal. Now that was a really good experience for me as a child growing up because what it meant is I got given a lot of things I didn’t want and need and I didn’t get given some of the things I really did need.
So with our three children, I’ve done it differently, of course, and what I’ve done and what my husband and I have tried to do is to give our children what they need.
So sometimes that might mean that one child needs more than the other children, whether that be on a shopping thing that their Christmas present is much bigger than everyone else’s or they need more time or they need something else bigger than the others. I’ve always explained to my children, look, I’m trying to give each of you what you need when you need it and you’re not going to need it at the same time, please trust me, that it will even out and if you feel I’m really getting it wrong, let me know. But this year this person is getting a laptop for Christmas you are not all going to get an equivalent present because we can’t afford it, but there will come your time when you will need something big and it might not be a laptop, it might be something else and you will be the person that we splash out on, and the same with time and attention.
My children are really aware that sometimes there’s one or another thing who is going through a difficult time so of course they need more of our time and as long as they know that they’re not forgotten so little bits go a long way. You’re both parents when you’re absolutely exhausted a 10 minute nap can go a long way even though you feel like you need a weekend away and it’s the same with children.
I think sometimes we as parents feel so overwhelmed by what feels like a bottomless pit of need, but actually just setting aside 10 minutes to say, hey, listen, I made hot drinks come with me and just tell me something about today, tell me something about you today.
That 10 minutes that child will go away feeling like they’ve had something from you and it’s enough to keep them going, even if actually there is another child in the house who is getting hours and hours of your time.
Dr Ro: That is a lovely message.
I want to ask your father a question.
One of the things you talked about I think it’s important for our parents to pick up on that point as you said, even if your daughter hasn’t necessarily been good or you’re upset with them, you said still take them out on that date.
Can you expand on that because I get a sense of this is about not punishing them. I think for the pride or ego of a parent they’ll go you’re not going to go on this date with me because you misbehave or whatever.
Kim: In our parenting role we have to be the adults and our children’s behaviour will trigger us all the time, they’ve spent their lives studying us they know exactly what buttons to press and when we’re triggered, we are no longer adults.
When we’re triggered generally it’s something childlike or childish within us that’s being triggered. If we parent from that place we are parenting child to child and we are not doing our very best job. So of course sometimes our children act up and behave badly and when we are in our adult place we’re able to not make a child wrong for that we’re able to look at that behaviour and think, what does that tell me about what my child needs right now? Now that’s the ideal parent.
I’m certainly triggered all the time and when I’m triggered I do not sit there thinking what does that mean, I’m thinking you little shit. But that’s not from my adult place. So when I say don’t punish them what I mean is don’t punish them from your child, it’s not to mean that behaviour might not have consequences it might not have implications but if we can do that from an adult place where the child is learning something and it’s not a punishment.
Because as soon as we punish the child who learns nothing, if we punish them their feelings that they were having that cause them to behave in the way that they did will suddenly switch into feelings towards you.
Their feelings of upset, hatred, sadness about you as a parent and you’ve just divorced them from the true source of their feelings. Behaviour in a child and any person actually comes out of somewhere and our job as parents is never to make our children wrong never to make them wrong for how they’re behaving, but actually to seek to understand why they’re behaving in that way.
The mother-daughter date or the me and you time special date between adult and child that is your superpower, that is how you stay connected to your child and when you stay connected to your child, then you’ve got influence. The minute you set yourself up in opposition to your child you’ve just lost influence.
Actually you’ve just lost the ability to communicate with them and for them to learn from this. You’ve now set yourself up in opposition, you’ve become the enemy and all their attention and focus is going to be on somehow getting out of the conflict with you. You’ve just divorced them from what’s lying underneath it and their deep sadness or their fear or their anger and it might be at you from something you’ve done, it might be justified in which case we as parents have to be able to go you’re right. I messed up there, tell me what do you need? What do I need to do to make this up to you?
Dr Ro: When you talked about making them feel guilty I’ve fallen into that trap myself. As parents we do revert back to that, almost childlike reaction which leads me into a father question.
It’s a sensitive area I think for a lot of dads who maybe see their partners being so much better at dealing with and coping with them and understanding their daughter. In the book you have a chapter called how to manage her wild and magnificent moods.
I think that is the name of the chapter, but I know for me I’m still learning about Savannah and what she’s going through. Have you got any simple steps for dads?
I think some mothers handle it so much better than us dads. That’s my experience.
Kim: Well their mothers you’re never going to be as good as their mothers at being the mother.
No one is going to be as good at you as you as being the father, nobody in the world and every little girl however old she is needs her dad.
Mothers actually by all children often taken for granted. It’s like they’re just a given, and that is a great privilege as a mother that you are kind of just there and you’re assumed.
Father’s are not children and will often feel that they have to earn their father’s attention, respect, and time. In some senses, you are their first gateway to the world, you are their first relationship in a sense they don’t have the same kind of relationship with mother it’s almost like it’s just there.
A bit like the way we treat the planet. Father’s are the first person that a child looks to for approval. The way that you look at your child, the way that you feel when you’re looking at your child cannot be more powerful cannot be more important. So now let’s talk about dads and daughters, she’s got you around her little finger that is part of the special relationship that you have.
She is learning about relationships, she is learning about how to relate to people through her relationship with you and she’s looking to you for approval for love and for your time. When you give that to her she knows herself and she feels loved and cared for.
I cannot underestimate how important you are and many dads as their girls go into puberty start to feel like woah, as the feelings start to hit off and the body starts to change and a lot of dads step back at that time and I understand that. It does feel like your daughter is now heading into territory that you don’t necessarily feel comfortable but go with her walk alongside she needs her dad at her side. She needs her dad offering her tips and advice and listening as you are modelling for her the relationship between man and woman, the relationship between female and male.
However you relate to her and also however you relate to her mother, whatever your relationship with her mother may be gives her the blueprint for what to expect from the men in her life, from the boys from the boyfriends from the men at work, from potentially other men that she encounters.
You are setting the standard so set it high. Raise the bar high so that if she feels like you treat her with respect and with love and she sees you treating her mother with love and respect that’s what she’s going to expect from all the boys and the men in her life.
That’s what she’s going to settle for so just don’t underestimate your power and your influence and equally you don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to get it right all the time, but just don’t underestimate, don’t step back.
Stay involved, you are just as powerful and as important as her mother.
Dr Ro: As you are saying this is it’s hitting so many notes for me and resonating. Even in a situation at home, whereas most people know during lockdown families are in one space, if a couple wants to have a higher volume discussion it’s finding a space to do that outside of the children’s ear earshot if you like.
Kim: If you’re going to fight, fight clean.
There’s nothing wrong with them seeing us going into conflict. But make sure you fight as adults that you have conflict as adults and when you don’t which is inevitable make sure they see you resolving it, making up as well.
A lot of children see the conflict kicking off and that kissing and making up is done behind closed doors. They don’t see the whole process and the other thing is to recognise that parents give a balance. Whatever you may feel about your partners or the other parents’ role recognise it’s a balancing force.
You don’t have to agree all the time.
I know sometimes I hate what my husband brings to the children’s life and it’s not what I would do and it’s not what I like, but I do recognise that it’s a good balance for them and having those two influences gives them a chance to then find their own third way because it means there isn’t just one right way. There is mum’s way, dad’s way and there’s their way.
Dr Ro: These are gold nuggets after gold nuggets.
I want to ask questions because we do have listeners that are divorced, so they might be listening for example there may be mums listening to this and we talked about having the masculine male presence as well.
Are there any tips there and you have alluded to maybe having a close friend of the family coming but the subject we talked about having a father or a male influence there for a mum listening thinking this is exactly what my daughter needs.
Any sort of pearls of wisdom on that note, Kim?
Kim: Yes, children are incredibly resilient so they are sometimes relieved when mum and dad split up if it’s a relationship that really isn’t working. Every child though wants mum and dad to get on because they are half of each of you.
So when they hear you speaking ill of the other parent they take it personally because they feel as if you’re speaking ill of them too, because they are part of the other parent. So if you’re having difficulty in that relationship get help. It’s not easy separating and also co parenting at a distance from different households and I know that sometimes the partner might be actually someone who is actually very difficult for you to keep in relationship with, so of course you need to protect yourself first and foremost.
But as best as possible never speak ill of a child’s other parent because they will take it personally. The other thing to know is, every child thinks it’s their fault that you’ve broken up, every child, whether they are able to put into words or not believes that somehow if they had somehow not behaved badly or not said or done something that somehow, magically, that would have kept you together.
All children need to know that it really isn’t their fault and you can explicitly tell them that and then all children do need men and women in their lives good men and women. If, for whatever reason, the other parent isn’t someone who you feel is putting in a good influence in your child’s life just make really sure that there are other men or other women who are.
Also that your child sees you relating to other opposite sex adults in a way that is wholesome and healthy so that they can see that, okay, so maybe that relationship didn’t work out that but this one I can learn from this. I can see how men and women can get on and how they are really different and how they can disagree, but that actually it isn’t unsafe and it’s resolvable.
Yes, children need lots of adults in their lives and they need adults of all different kinds.
Harms: I want to take this opportunity to shift gears and talk to about your book, because we have had so many amazing golden nuggets, but this is somewhere where a parent can go and get gold nugget on golden nugget and a blueprint such which is your amazing book from daughter to women.
The book goes right to the heart of the challenges that we’ve started to discuss today specifically could you tell us more about the book and how it can benefit our readers as parents.
Kim: I wrote that for all the parents who didn’t have girls who are the right age to come to girls journeying together groups it’s actually written for parents, mothers and fathers of girls and boys actually, a lot of it is just as relevant to raising our boys. But really from the age of about seven to 17 and yet no because I think about when I go around the country talking to parents I have got many parents who have got little children, three, four, five, and they’re already dreading the teen years.
I wrote that book as I don’t want you to dread the teen years. I want you to look forward to the teen years and I want you to know that you actually have everything within you that you need to parent your child safely through that time and your child does not have to end up doing some of the things that you may be fearful of.
Doing things that maybe you did and that’s what can make the teen years scary knowing what you did as a teenager. The book is really written actually to start well before the preteen years. If you read that book when your child is three, four, five years old it’s not too soon. Equally, if your child is already in the teen years it’s not too late.
There are four sections in the book, though, that I have really specifically written for that kind of preteen puberty adolescent stage which are written actually giving you the words to know how to speak to your child about these four issues.
Because not all parents feel confident to speak to their child about puberty or to speak to them about periods or to speak to them about feelings and relationships, so there are four sections in the book that actually use the words that I use when I’m working with the girls to explain what happens to your body when you go into puberty and how to catch the blood when it comes and what to do when you are overwhelmed by feelings and how relationships change in the preteen and teen years.
But that said, it’s a book very much a book to dip in and out of you don’t have to sit down and read it from cover to cover and I have recorded it with audible so if you want to listen to me reading it to you, then it’s also available through Amazon in that way. It’s a dip in book and the first chapter is dedicated to the special mother-daughter date time the whole of the last chapter is dedicated to puberty rites of passage, it’s a how-to guide on how to create a rite of passage for your child.
Now, whilst it’s written this book is about girls I had two boys and then a girl and we created a puberty rite for our boys and we haven’t created our daughter’s one yet. She’s got very grand plans and she’s very involved in the creation of hers.
So there is a how-to guide in the last chapter and it’s full of stories as well that show you how other parents have tackled certain things. I hope it’s full of really practical, down-to-earth tips and it’s not judgemental.
This is what bothers me when you listen to me here in this podcast. I don’t want you to think that I’m perfect. I make all the mistakes that I talk about in the book and I still make them. I might be in conflict with my child and they’ll go you’re supposed to be a child expert. You’re supposed to be better than this. I’ll say yes you’re right, I’m messing up I’m really sorry. Okay, let’s regroup. I make all these mistakes. That’s how I know about them.
Harms: That is fantastic, one question I had was just to elaborate on what you spoke about in the book which is puberty rites.
What does that mean if somebody’s first listening to that phrase? People are aware of puberty, but how do those two words combined mean something different?
Kim: This is something that we don’t really know so much about any more. A lot of the religions have hung onto it, but it used to be that the rite of passage that was given the most time and attention throughout the whole community was the puberty rite of passage, which is the preparing of our young people.
Preparing them for adulthood and then having some sort of ceremony celebration to mark their passage from child to young adult. Girls journeying together groups is a completely integral part of that preparation. So whilst the girls will join us at 10, 11 years old that is the beginning of that preparation which is getting together with your peer group and learning from an adult mentor.
A lot of what the girls learn in girls group is the sorts of things they need to know to become a young adult woman: a healthy, wholesome, empowered, true to themselves young adult woman. But that’s just the preparation and you would expect the preparation to take a year or two just the same way as a wedding you prepare over a period of time.
A pregnancy, birth of a child you prepare over a long period of time but it also needs to be marked and sadly this is the rite of passage that’s been lost and what I want to do is help all of us to bring it back.
Bring it back in a way that doesn’t feel weird to the teenagers because they have a bull shit monitor and too many candles and charting in the woods is not going to speak to them. It’s got to be something that feels relevant and right to their lives.
If we don’t provide this rite of passage for them the need for it doesn’t go away and what I see is teenagers will self-initiate, they need to prove to you, their parents and the community around them, but also to each other that they are no longer children. The way that they self-initiate often is to dress like adults to talk like adults, to behave to do the things that adults do. What do adults do that children don’t do?
They drink, they drive, they have sex so often teenagers are doing those two things too young and too early because they’re trying to prove to themselves and others that they’re growing up and if we don’t offer them a rite of passage, an acknowledgement from us the adults in their community, if we don’t offer them some way of marking that they are growing up, then they will try to do it themselves, and they often do it in quite risky ways.
Dr Ro: Do you think that we’ve lost that just because of society moving so fast? Working patterns changing, parents being busy just being so blurred into a new form of living. It’s such a beautiful process you’re bringing back to life.
Kim: Yes, that’s a really good question. Why have we lost it?
Because we’ve kept other ones, christening and the name ceremony, marriage or the union, we’ve kept the funeral and we’ve lost this one and yet this was the one that was given the most time and attention.
Perhaps actually it’s been the growth of the teenage phase, we’ve got this elongated adolescence. When my dad grew up a lot of them left school at 14 and got their first jobs and when they got the first job they got their first suit and that was kind of like a rite of passage.
Now we have this elongated education at least up to 18 maybe into the early 20s, where children are still living at home they’re not working and not behaving as adults and so I think it’s kind of blurred the edges as to where adulthood begins. It’s not that it’s actually in a moment and people often say to me what age I should do the rite of passage and you as the adult parent will know when the right age is. It might be when your daughter starts her period but if she’s eight that’s way too young to start her rite of passage, even though she starts her period. It might be when she turns 13 or 16 or 18 you’ll have a sense.
I know I did for our children that suddenly they felt like they were kind of engaging in the world in a different way and they were engaging with themselves in a different way and it felt like it was the right time.
We did take a year to prepare and plan and then do it. Why do I think it’s missing? I think it’s because we’ve got this elongated adolescence and actually means it’s even more necessary and important to mark it so our children know that yes you are you are a grown up. It’s one of the first questions we ask mothers actually in the mother circle when they come to join girls journeying together is, how did you know when you became a woman?
The answer to that question is very varied and there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s not the answer that matters, it’s the thinking about it.
How is your child going to know when you see them as an adult and because it’s not just about getting all the kinds of rights and freedoms of being an adult it’s also taking on the responsibilities of an adult. It’s one of the things the girls learn is if you want your parents to give you more freedom you need to be stepping up and taking more responsibility and showing them that it’s safe for them to pass that freedom over to you and that’s a process as part of growing up.
I think it needs marking. It needs acknowledging.
Dr Ro: I have seen over the years with the work I do with audiences there is almost so much emphasis placed on those schooling years towards the next step is getting to university, getting your exams, getting the results and there’s been more emphasis placed on the academic transition than that personal passage that you’re talking about. Then it’s the career people looking at getting jobs and owning houses.
Harms: At what point did you make that transition? It becomes a blur.
Dr Ro: I just want to add a personal note regarding the book by the way that if anybody’s listening to this and you’re thinking should I? Just go get the book.
It’s a fantastic, easy read on the basis that if you’re somebody that wants to dip in, dip out you just got something on your mind that you want to address. It is not done in such a way that you have to follow it from start to finish. That’s certainly my experience of it.
Kim: I know what it’s like being a parent you don’t have a chunk of time to sit down and read a book. It’s more that you get a crisis and you reach for help. Sometimes mothers who have got the book will then read out sections to fathers and it can be a really interesting conversation, or even reading it to their children.
It can open up a conversation may be that you didn’t know quite how to have it but it gives you away but yes, the book is very much I hope it’s really practical. Stuff you can do and you can put into practice today and it isn’t lots of work, but it is calling you to account.
Something we haven’t really talked about and I think this is something that comes up in the online parenting courses is that actually often getting parenting right starts with giving ourselves some attention. In the book I do ask of you to think about your own experience growing up and what you learnt from that and also what it is that your role modelling to your child. If there’s something you want to pass on to your child do it yourself live it yourself.
It comes up all the time when people ask me about social media, just check out your own social media first to have good Internet hygiene and then if you’re doing it your child will automatically learn a lot from that. It gives you a good basis from which to then talk to them about it.
I’ve had so many children tell me how cross they feel with their parents who tell them they can’t bring their phones to the table and yet the parent brings the phone to table because there might be an important work call that comes in. For children their social life is their work, a rule for one needs to apply for all.
Harms: Millennials who are slightly older than me in the top range of being millennial children may be between five and 10 years old, so this is so relevant to them right now and you’ve touched upon it, which is millennials are the first generation to be surrounded by absorbed by this phenomenon, which is technology, social media, the ability to have information at our fingertips whenever we want.
What’s a message to them?
What can millennials do to manage that process because we actually don’t understand it yet.
There are documentaries, discovery books written about what the predictions will be based on what’s happening right now, but nobody actually truly knows what is what. We’re starting to see some signs and impacts floating about, what can millennial parents do to manage that for the teenagers knowing that if we haven’t really got a grasp on it how are teenagers supposed to have a grasp on it?
Kim: First of all don’t be scared, don’t be scared of the digital world and social media.
It’s here to stay and your child is inhabiting that world already. If you are scared you won’t be able to parent very well on this. If you have concerns take them seriously just the same as when your child was really little you don’t just open the front door the minute they learn to walk and say off you go out into the world.
You first of all insist that they hold your hand as you walk along the street and at that time you’re teaching them about road safety and what to look out for and that they have to cross the road safely and carefully and then there’s that gradual process where now they can walk along without holding your hand, but you’re still there.
Or they can walk to the park on their own eventually but you stand at the end of the street and just check that they can cross the road safely. Well, it’s just the same in the digital world. I think a lot of parents open up the laptop and go to the child off you go.
It’s our job as parents to hold their hand as they go into that world initially to be there to be present and boring as it may be for you that’s your job. If you’re not sure how to keep safe then find out, that again is your parenting job and luckily there are so many good resources online teaching you as a parent what you need.
What I did is when my children started a platform the rule in our house was that I had to go on the platform too, and that they had to friend me so I could kind of be there and keep an eye. Never make the mistake of commenting on your child’s feed, be there and be invisibles and just keep an eye. It does mean putting in the time and it’s boring scrolling through all those emojis and the What’s up and the rest of it, but that is your job.
Just because you can’t see the road and you can’t see the cars thundering past they are still there and every family has to navigate and find their way of navigating this in a way that suits them, so it’s not just about there is a set of rules you can download and follow. You need to figure out some children are more influenced by social media than others.
Some are more prone to become kind of I don’t use the word addicted, but I can’t think of the other word, so they get stuck on it. Before we start talking about the children being addicted let’s just take a look at the parents. What are you doing?
The minute you wake up are you checking your emails or having a little scroll through Facebook? Are your notifications pinging off through the day and calling your attention? What is your child learning from you?
Your most powerful influence over this is your own behaviour and being congruent just because for you it’s work and so it seems important. None of what they’re doing is any less important to them. So whilst it might just be YouTube or tick-tock or whatever that you think is trivial, it’s not to them. So whatever you want to teach them, you need to get your own social media hygiene in place and also talk about it.
Just the same way as you teach your child the Green Cross code and how to cross the road teach your child by explaining to them, for example, I know that when we first went into the first lockdown in March a lot of parents because of their fear started checking the news media constantly and it coincided with the children’s education going online and their social life going online.
It all actually went a bit out the window all the kind of normal ground rules and it all went a bit enter into kind of like in a boundaryless both for the adults and for the children. In the parenting courses that I started running during that first lockdown what a lot of the parents had to do is actually make it a bit more explicit and explain to their that child, I’ve noticed that the way I’m dealing with my anxiety is to keep checking the news line I’m actually going to go cold turkey. I’m not going to check it from morning till night for this day and see how I feel. What do you find your now kind of a bit hooked on that you might want to scale back on?
We have to put the checks and balances inside the child because of course we’re not going to be there all the time and all of this is age-appropriate, so what you will permit a six year old to do online is very different from a 16 year old.
A word of warning though, it’s much easier to kind of move the boundary and extend it to give greater freedom than it is to rein it in. So start with tighter guidelines that you think may be fair so that your child can push against them and you can relax them a little bit to a place that actually you would have decided anyway.
This is really difficult I think but something that I think makes things a lot easier is turn your Wi-Fi off at night because a lot of children are getting sleep deprived because they are lying in bed under the covers, staying online there’s a lot of pressure on them to do that. It’s very hard for them to say I’m going to sleep now and you do get hooked and no screens in the bedroom even.
Which is difficult if your child is doing the homework in the room but when our children were younger, we made sure that all screens were in places where adults could pass by and just check and see what was on there. You and any other adult you’re living with are going to need to kind of agree what you’re going to create is the culture in your home for online activity.
Dr Ro: The reference to the fact that we as adults will place importance on I need to just check this because it’s a business or a work-related call or text and we forget, as you said, so beautifully that actually their world is their world.
So although it might not appear important to us it’s just as important as our call we are expecting from the bank manager or whoever it was. That’s a nice takeaway for me from today.
As I do occasionally find myself having that conversation I need to take this because it’s work or business and yet the kids aren’t allowed to do X, Y, and Z on digital at any one point in the same period.
Harms: We’ve touched upon maybe one of the benefits from one of your parenting workshops Kim.
When parents come to the workshop what are some of the challenges that they share with you, not how does the workshop help them overcome this, but what are the challenges that you do help parents overcome?
Is this a new initiative and if yes, what was the reason for putting together parenting workshops alongside working with young teenage girls?
Kim: I’ve always worked with the parents of the children because you are the most powerful influence on their lives and so on any work that I’m doing with a child that’s something that when we train Rites for girls facilitators it’s one of our tenants if you like is never step in between child and parent.
You’re working alongside them and with them, and of course we work with a whole variety of different parents and parenting styles. When we went into lockdown in March we had a large number of girls Journeying together groups happening around the country around the world actually and immediately we had to stop them right at a time when the children needed support that we were offering and providing.
The first thing we did is we went online. We were already used to being online because we have facilitators all around the world we supervise them and we do a certain amount of the training online, although I would have to say the training to be a facilitator is a two year long training which does involve 27 residential days, so it’s a very in-depth training.
But we are familiar with online we went online with the girls and initially they were just really relieved to see each other and to hear from their facilitator, but very quickly we realised that actually we couldn’t continue to give the kind of support we wanted to be able to give them online because they were saturated.
School went online, their social life went online.
They didn’t need any more online anything and it is very limited. I think children’s ability to connect online is very different from adults’ ability to connect online and we just noticed that actually the best way we could support the girls actually we started writing them letters, real proper letters that went into envelopes with stamps and then were delivered through their front doors.
We started writing to the girls on a monthly basis and pivoted to the most powerful way we could support the children was to actually support the parents and that’s where the online parenting series was born.
What we found was that by supporting the parents in what had now become a full-time 24-hour seven day week parenting job, was going to have a huge impact on the children. What do we cover in the series? We cover whatever is a challenge for you in your life at the moment it’s actually designed around research that has been done at the Anna Freud Institute on children in crisis.
Each session there’s a little bit of very practical, but theoretical research that gives you some indication as to what do children most need in times of crisis, what they need to come through it through times of difficulty intact. Because what is extraordinary is some children can go through war time even and come through and be relatively unscathed and other children will go through exactly the same experience and be really deeply traumatised and very affected.
So what I wanted to do was to give parents tools and the knowledge and the understanding of what they could do to help them to parent their children through this really challenging time and for their child to emerge relatively intact.
Now it can apply to a pandemic, but it will also apply to a family crisis or an individual crisis within the family.
Parenting through difficult times needs certain tools and techniques which is what we go through in the series. Which are applicable to a crisis on a macro scale or in a micro family scale and the most important aspect of the series is that each parent, each person is given time to take that tool, or take that technique and adapt it to make it suit and fit them and their family.
Each person can bring their own individual particular circumstances and more than anything else the feedback that I’ve been getting is that parents also feel that shared support with each other, that they’re not alone. I think many of us imagine that everybody else was coping better than we were.
And of course it’s really, really reassuring to other parents that you know we all have our moments when we just think, you know, I’m going to pack my bags and leave this house. I can’t do this anymore.
Also learn from each other so during the course of the series they might hear from another parent something happening in their home which has happened for them, but actually does happen further down the line when their child is that same age so we learn from each other as well. It’s the shared expertise; it’s not just me the expert sitting there with all the answers. I don’t have all the answers, I’m afraid, but we all have them within ourselves, especially when we kind of take some time out.
Dr Ro: People are much more comfortable turning to the computers to watch and attend a workshop.
We’re in a period of maybe another couple of months where there’s a lot of availability of time to do that, so I really do believe it’s a good time for people to go into space. Learn and be open to self-study again and connect in a different way.
Harms: Kim is the learning done recorded, is it live or combination?
Kim: There are two forms of the online workshop.
One of them is a recorded course that, of course, then you can do in your own time when you have time and that’s a slightly longer course and it takes you through a series of tools and techniques.
What I would advise is that you leave a week or so between each module so that you have a chance to kind of try it out and find out how it works for you and your family. The other version is a live, interactive course with me and that’s over three weeks.
We have a one and half a two hour session together in a small group of 10 other parents and then in between times there’s a Facebook group so that conversation can carry on between the live sessions.
I will also drop a couple of videos in there which summarise what we’ve covered and answer some of your questions so that it’s a more interactive and intense course in a way which happens at a particular time, or there’s the online recorded course which you can then do in your own time.
There’s a map on the website as well which shows you where all the girls journeying together groups are running around. If you do have a girl who’s 10 or 11 years old who is in year six who you think might like to try out girls journeying together I have to let you know that whilst it will be parents who bring the girls to the group, very important that it’s the girl herself who gets to decide whether or not it’s for her.
So each group starts with a free trial session and your job as the parent is to get your daughter there.
Our job then is to give her an experience of what girls journeying together is like, it’s not to put any pressure on her to join, we want the girls to have a chance to know what they’re saying yes or no to. In the area where I live it’s kind of well-known and I get girls, either siblings their older sister did it or they’ve got friends and they’ve heard about it and they bring their mums to it.
Around the country where it’s not so well-known it’ll probably be the parent who brings the girl but then the girl who will decide whether or not it’s for her. I have girls who travel down in Sussex.
I have a girl at the moment who travels to one of my groups, she sets off the night before from Cornwall to come to my group once a month. Don’t be dismayed if there isn’t a group within half an hour of you, we’re still training women and eventually we would like for there to be a girls journeying together group in every town and city in the world so that it’s available to all girls.
A bit like yoga, everyone’s heard of it and most people have given it a try at some point, so don’t be dismayed if there is not a group right close to you. I have mothers who drive several hours to bring their girl to girls group and because the mothers meet at the same time, there’s something for you to do at the same time.
The girls love knowing that their mums are meeting at the same time and you’ll find that you are given a few questions as a mother that means you’re walking the same territory as your daughter is walking in during the girls journeying together group. Fathers whilst you can’t join the mother circle because of course what the mothers are partly talking about is their own first period and their own body image or their own kind of relationships with women, fathers often are the ones who might bring the girls to girls group you are welcome.
We are delighted that you recognise the importance of it and very quickly, not so much in lockdown but very quickly girls and mothers will start to want to socialise outside of the girls journeying together group sessions and that’s when the fathers really pulled in and welcomed into that kind of growing community of support.
Dr Ro: That’s fantastic I know my daughter is going through this experience at the moment, so I get to hear a little bit when she chooses to share certainly my partner does as well, so I can vouch for the experience and having seen so many friends have their daughters go through it it’s an amazing experience.
I guess that leads me to thank you so much for all the energy and enthusiasm, the passion and the insight you’ve brought to the table Kim.
Could you just finish off for our listeners and for the young girls of the parents that are listening. Are there any sort of words of wisdom or tips that we can give them at this stage when they leave the podcast, a step closer to starting that journey from your perspective whilst we’re in lockdown?
Are there any quick wins that our listeners can implement over the next week with their kids that would reconnect or build a strong relationship?
Kim: Yes, certainly. If I were to pick three things.
The first one I would say is find little pockets of parent-child time. It doesn’t have to be big pockets and it doesn’t have to be big things that you do together, but it will go a long way to keeping the relationship warm and open because we will get on each other’s nerves and we will irritate each other and it’s quite difficult being a parent and a teacher and everything in your child’s life were altogether in one building.
Look for moments where you can have just precious times with your child a lot of children it can be at bedtime, it can be the time when we adults we want to switch off and we want our children to kind of just give us a bit of a break, but that can often be quite a special time. Just give them an extra 10 minutes that will go a long way to nourishing the relationship which will get stretched and challenged over the next few weeks. Second thing I would say is never make your child wrong.
Always treat their behaviour as information, treat their behaviour as communication and if you in that moment are triggered take care of yourself first. You might need to just remove yourself for a moment so that you can then get to an adult place of thinking, so what does this behaviour tell me? What is my child telling me they need? What are they communicating?
The third thing would be self-care is childcare. I think it’s really important that we parents take care of ourselves through this time and we cannot be the best parents that we want to be when we are in need ourselves.
We need to nourish ourselves and whatever that means for you and I know that we are all restricted and the things that may be bought us respite or nourished us or revived us or replenished, we’re challenged to find those things. But take that responsibility because not only are you teaching your child something so important for adult life because they’re watching us and thinking how we act in a crisis.
We are the adults, we’re showing them how we cope in a crisis. It does not mean that we get everything right and that we don’t get stressed and that we don’t lose it sometimes, that’s natural. What are we doing to take care of ourselves?
Please give yourself permission to shut yourself in the bathroom with a book or take yourself off for a walk or whatever it is, whether it be your morning practice, your morning routine or whatever indulgence that feels healthy and nourishing to you.
Make sure that every single day holds some of that as well.
Dr Ro: Thank you, Kim, for those three gifts.
Harms: I’m fortunate to be a co-host on this podcast.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart and I know there will be lots of parents out there or parents thinking about being parents, millennials who have nieces and nephews, younger people in their life and maybe didn’t understand the importance of that time they spend with them, plus the idea of understanding the behaviour and even take care of themselves.
No doubt it’ll be amazing to have you back talking on the subject. My gut feel is parenting diving into a wider topic of parenting.
Dr Ro: It would be lovely to have back if you’re up for it Kim, I think that subject alone could easily fulfil a whole podcast.
Harms: Massive thank you for myself and Ro.
To the listeners at home this is myself, Ro and Kim signing out. We shall see you on the next episode, as always, everything discussed will be in the show firstname.lastname@example.org. Till then we will see you.
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