Episode summary:

Susan talks with Drs. Gay and Katie Hendricks, pioneers in the field of conscious loving and body awareness, about raising emotionally intelligent children. This fascinating conversation covers how to acknowledge difficult feelings with children, responding from our true “Yes” and “No”, and leading with appreciation.  

Gay Hendricks and Kathlyn Hendricks have been pioneers in the fields of body intelligence and relationship transformation for more than forty years. They’ve mastered ways to translate powerful concepts and life skills into experiential processes where people can discover their own body intelligence and easily integrate life-changing skills. Katie and Gay have empowered hundreds of coaches around the world to add a body intelligence perspective to enhance fields from medicine to sports psychology, education and personal growth. Together and singly they have authored more than forty books, including such bestsellers as Conscious Loving, The Big Leap, Conscious Loving Ever After: How to Create Thriving Relationships at Midlife and Beyond and The Joy of Genius. They have appeared on more than 500 television and radio programs, including Oprah, 48 Hours and others. https://foundationforconsciousliving.com and https://hendricks.com

Things you’ll learn from this episode:


  • Helping children understand emotional congruence

  • Honoring what kids are feeling and experiencing

  • Leading with appreciation and positivity

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Transcript of Parenting with Authenticity with Drs. Gay and Katie Hendricks:

Speaker 1: (00:00)

Fantastic. Oh gosh, you guys, it’s so fun to be with you. 

Speaker 2: (00:04)

It’s great to be with you too, Susan. 

Speaker 1: (00:06)

So you have been pioneers in the field of relationship and body intelligence for over 40 years. You just celebrated your 38th wedding anniversary. So you’re doing something though. Yeah, we consider our own relationship of living laboratory and we like to share what has worked for us and we don’t share anything that we don’t actually practice. That’s beautiful. 

Speaker 2: (00:32)

Yeah. One thing that I’m excited about with this is really getting a chance to organize our thoughts about this subject because we really haven’t been asked about this in a while. And then one of the treats in our field is to be asked some new questions that we haven’t been asked after 500 radio and TV shows. We think we’ve been asked just about everything, but then we’re always open to something new. 

Speaker 1: (00:54)

Nah, I love that. So when in the context of parenting authenticity in my book is such an important element, not only because it allows parents to be who they’re supposed to be and show up in the world with that ease and comfort that comes when you’re being yourself, but it also allows them to model for their children and maybe spare their kids. Some of them are some of the, you know, left turns and twists and turns of, of their own path so that they can more comfortably see what it’s like to live authentically. What does that mean to you? Well, I’m thinking of two things in particular. One is that when, when I’m speaking, I’m doing my best to describe my experience. So I’m, I’m doing what we call matching so that my words really correspond to what I’m actually experiencing, what I’m feeling, what I want. 

Speaker 1: (01:50)

And uh, because kids and people in general will feel, and notice if, if those two things don’t match and it’s confusing and can be disturbing and kids always know what’s going on. So we think if we think we’re hiding something from them, that’s just bologna. Um, and the other thing is if I’m real, I’m, I’m declaring that I get real. I am real and that’s what’s going on with me, not what other people think I ought to be or what I’ve learned from a lot of experts. But what’s really true for me and when I model that, I think it’s one of the best things that I can do for children because it shows them that authenticity coming from the inside rather than reacting to society is really the basis of having a successful life. Yeah. 

Speaker 2: (02:47)

Yeah. I think also when I was, uh, when my daughter was little, I didn’t really know anything about how to communicate authentically. And then as she grew up, I began to study more and more about that kind of thing. And I realized that where I was missing out was I didn’t know enough about my own emotions to be able to really describe them accurately to anybody else. And it was a hugely transformative thing in my relationships with peers and um, the, um, the people in my life but also really important with, uh, with my daughter was to learn how to communicate about feelings. Like I’m angry or I feel sad about that or I’m scared about that or I’m happy about that. Just very simple things. But it was like, ah, you know, I like now to think of human beings as a, as a violin that we need to keep well tuned all the time to learn how to be in touch with all of our different notes. While I was in touch with maybe two notes on my violin at the time, I didn’t know how to communicate with her if I was scared about something or sad about somebody who says, I just didn’t have any way of authentically presenting my emotions to the world. But I think parenting more than almost anything else almost forced me to have to learn how to do that because like Katie was saying, kids really pick up when you’re not being authentic with them. 

Speaker 1: (04:08)

And I remember with my son that by the time he was four, he not only could recognize his feelings, but he’d say, mommy, you are you feeling sad. And one of the most important things I could say is yes, I’m feeling sad and it doesn’t have anything to do with, yes, I feel angry and I’m not angry at you. I’m angry about this thing that happened at work and I’m still working out and I appreciate you noticing and I’m, I’m taking care of this, you know, I’m handling this. You do not have to feel my feelings for me. And you know, those kinds of things. Um, I’m very happy that I, uh, that I learned that and that I communicated that. And I think it’s really at the heart of all parenting and it really all relationships. And the other thing was just occurring to me as you were talking to gay is that at the heart also of authenticity is do I know what I want and what I don’t want? 

Speaker 1: (05:07)

And if I’m able to communicate that. Like, I remember with one of my granddaughters, it was so clear that, um, you know, I would offer her something and we’d be very clear it was yes or no, but we get that overwritten. And I think in parenting we override that in favor of no, don’t say that or don’t act that way around your grandparents or don’t, you know, the don’t, don’t, don’t. So that they get separated from the very source of authentic response, which is what is my inner yes and what does my inner no, and we build our whole construct on top of those two, which your body skills, you know, body awareness skills. And if we’re not open to our kids being authentic, then we shut that down. Oh my gosh, this is so wonderful because we can help our children have such a deep experience in joyful experience of life when we usher them toward that authenticity. And in so many cases we feel pressured from the outside to be a certain way. So somebody says, can you help with the bake sale at the PTA? 

Speaker 2: (06:15)

Oh no good mom initially. Remember that brings up a memory. My mother was incredibly busy and yet she just had this inability to ever say no. And so she, I, I used to dread this because she would be on the phone and they would be asking her to make cookies for the something or other, you know, which is a last thing in the world my mother would ever want to do anyway, you know? Uh, and uh, but she would say, Oh, I’d be more than happy to do that. And then she’d hang up the phone, blow her stack, you know, and go off in a screaming frenzy. And so I often wished just say, no, don’t bake the cookies. But that, that wasn’t wired into her DNA. 

Speaker 1: (06:58)

And I was remembering, um, that in my growing up, I was reflection. We were a reflection of my mother. So she had a fairly narcissistic point of view that it was all about her. So if we were, for example, getting ready to go to church, if, you know, if I didn’t have on exactly the right outfit and it had been pressed and I behave myself in a certain way, it meant that she was a bad mother. Absolutely. And the whole separating out my experience from my children’s experiences. Oh I’ve, I’ve, I think that’s absolutely crucial to everybody’s wellbeing. And so we invite parents who are listening to this and maybe a few things are popping for you and you’re kind of having a body experience of, Oh wow, wow. Could I be that way? Could I actually show up with my children with that kind of forthrightness and honesty and say, yes, we’d hired, I am a little sad right now, or I am a little worried and it has nothing to do with you. So if you’re considering what that might do to your life, how it might shape your life or rearrange things, by all means keep moving. That’s about feeling as scary as it may be. Because first of all, there’s lots of support now where they didn’t used to be as much. Shoot, 

Speaker 2: (08:14)

you know, I read once of a study, um, way back where they hung little microphones around kids, next little voice activated microphones and they were interested in just how people spoke to kids. And so, uh, and these were little kids before, I think they were preschoolers or kindergartners. And so they attract to kids around them. They went through all the things that had been said and 85% of the stuff that was said to them was negative. In other words, don’t do that or quit that or why don’t you stop that? And that made a real impact on me because I realized I was guilty of that a lot. I was guilty of, of, you know, telling my daughter what I didn’t want her to do, but I was not often able to tell her exactly what I did want her to do. And I started thinking about that, you know, and I think a good parents that I’ve been around really are good at telling children what they want rather than later on, hassling them for what they didn’t want. And so that really stuck in my mind. I made a point of that from there on out to do my best to try to figure out, okay, how can I put this in a positive way? What I’d like to see rather than what I don’t want to see. 

Speaker 1: (09:25)

And that’s the point of, you know, those of you listening now and feeling like, wow, this is regulatory. That I could actually do it a little differently. I could stay true to myself. I could honor what my children are seeing and experiencing. I could help them understand that it’s important to be congruent with their emotional state and to speak their truth. Yes, you can make those small steps. Let’s talk about how a parent can do that. Well, the one thing was occurring to me just as gay was speaking, is that the incredible value of appreciating and how little we do it, that successful relationships of all kinds have at least a five to one ratio of appreciations to criticisms. And I find that especially with relatives and with children leading with appreciation and something that, that you appreciate about something they’ve learned or something they’re opening up to and having that be mixed in with the, you know, here’s something that you, you know, I want you to do differently and here’s something you’re working on, but you’re, you’re building their own sense of appreciation because it’s, it’s the easiest and it’s the most powerful, uh, reservoir to fill. 

Speaker 1: (10:39)

When you fill the appreciation reservoir, when you need to draw on that with something that you know, may be an issue that you’re working through, you have that connection then to draw on rather than have the feeling drained and that’s, that’s an easy first step to take. What’s another one? What’s something else on a practical level that apparent listening to this might want to try? 

Speaker 2: (11:01)

Well, this is very body centered, what I’m about to recommend, but I think it’s a lifesaver for many people, which is to get good at using your body as a signal system and use your body also as a healing experience. Because what can happen is a lot of times an emotion will cause your breathing to shift. And the big problem that people need to pay attention to is when your breathing shifts up in your chest because that’s a sign you’re in fight or flight mode. And when you’re in fight or flight mode, you’re going to parent in ways that cause fight or flight. And so if you yourself can get good at noticing when your breath rises up in your body and you start getting into that fight or flight, uh, type of moving and, and actually communicate that about, I’m beginning to get alarmed right now. 

Speaker 2: (11:52)

There would be a sentence you could actually say or, or at least acknowledge to yourself, what’s this alarm about? What am I scared about right now? The other thing I would recommend it very much relates to this is get good at talking to kids about your other emotions as well as your anger. Because nine times out of 10, when you’re, you’re, when you’re in fight or flight, you’re going to communicate often with an anger or a, with an angry statement or something. You don’t want the person to do a stop that or quit that. And what you need to do is get underneath that to sometimes tell them what you’re scared about or once you’re sad about a, because like I say, we need to know all the notes on our violin. 

Speaker 1: (12:33)

Yeah. And also we have, um, we’ve been getting a lot of attention to shifting from fear to here and there’s so much fear that people need to navigate these days. And understandably the, you know, I never had, uh, I had drills going under the desk for a nuclear attack, but I didn’t have, I didn’t have gun drills. And so really helping children to recognize when they’re scared and how to shift out of fear on our a website, the foundation for conscious living. We have this wonderful, uh, video that one of our colleagues made on few melters how to shift from few here that uses, um, ocean animals. So, and it’s made with his grandchildren. So you can see children recognizing that they’re scared and then shifting out of being scared. And so that’s something that the parents could do with their children and the fear melters or just very simply opening your breathing and opening. 

Speaker 1: (13:34)

You’re moving when you get, when you get caught in, in fear, and then it allows you both to, to share, Oh, we got scared and now we’re connected again. And uh, bringing that in as part of life. And that, that fear is just one of the emotions and we can be with that and we can be friended. Yeah. One of the things I often say is that we’re not just raising children, we’re raising adults, and that when we try and shelter our children or hide from them, some of the more challenging emotions like fear, anger, worry, that we’re not preparing them for the, the reality of life, which offers many opportunities often in the more difficult emotional States to grow and transform. And so sheltering them isn’t the approach because it denies in the possibility of becoming resilient adults, that we develop resilience by learning tools. And skills to cope when life gives us some unexpected experiences. So what else can parents do? This is just so practical and so helpful and that’s always my goal is to give practical things. 

Speaker 2: (14:42)

Uh, I’ll also tell you, um, maybe this is on more of a longterm fix, but when my daughter was a little over four, I learned to meditate and that became such an important part of my life because four in a 20 minutes or so in the evening or in the morning, I would kind of drop down into a part of myself that I usually didn’t contact in the Buisiness of the day. And I remember later, um, a, a famous yogurt yoga teacher said to me, not yogurt teacher, like a yoga teacher said, uh, she said something about she had three, four kids and she said, if I can give myself an hour of the day to myself, I can give back the other 23 to others. But if I don’t give myself that hour a day, I can’t give anything to anybody. And I thought that was really a valuable thing. And cause a lot of people think that unless you’re busy doing something, you’re not parenting. Well you know, but, uh, what I’m saying is get a place to come drop inside out of all of that stuff for a little while and recharge your own batteries. 

Speaker 1: (15:44)

Oh, and that reminds me of another thing I think is so important for, for parents is if your, uh, if you’re in a partnership, make your partnership the center of the family, not the kids and your relationship. And if you’re a single parent, your relationship with your support group and, and your life is central and that you’re filling your own reservoir first rather than reacting to what the kids need and draining your own sense of wellbeing. Because your, the, when you do that, you’re like this, the center of the hub that they can revolve around and it creates a sense of safety and structure, uh, that I think is really, really important and necessary, especially as things right now are so chaotic in our social world. The, the constructs that we used to have where you could correct a child going, no, we’re, you know, we’re being quiet now and you can’t do that. 

Speaker 1: (16:50)

No. So it’s just, you know, you know, Bedlam. Um, but the sense of, um, uh, I can remember when we first got together, we had a blended family and I remember one of the most powerful things that you said to my son was, we’re talking right now, wait until we have finished talking and then we’re going to give attention to what you need so that he could just interrupt whatever we were doing. That and establishing that primacy of, you know, this is the structure and you can then build a life of a lot more freedom around that rather than the kids being the parents. Well, you know, my work is built on this idea and I’ll repeat it for those of you who may not have heard it, I use my hands to represent the threesome that the simplistic model, but the three ways we can interact. 

Speaker 1: (17:39)

So if my right hand is the parent, my left hand is the child represents a child. My hands are in front of me. Right hand above left represents what I call the call captain of the ship. And you use the word react. This is the parent who’s responding rather than reacting. So the child might say, I really want to tell you this, I have to tell you right now on that call and parents as well, sweetheart, I want to hear you. And when we’re done. Now if the child is used to negotiating and arguing, then the hands may drop to side by side where the child’s saying, no, I have to tell you now. And you may say no, but with this is important when we’re done. And you’ve got this back and forth with no one in charge. And I call that the two lawyers. 

Speaker 1: (18:18)

Yeah. And then it can go from what you said, the child in charge. Well then I’m going to stop my feet and throw things until you stop what you’re doing. And now for all intents and purposes, I have my parents’ hand, the right hand below the child’s here and the parent is now feeling desperate, angry out of control and appreciate it. And I call this the dictator. Yes. Because dictators have no authentic power. They know by fear and intimidation. So this is where we’re getting a room separate because I’ve said tone. So talking about responding versus reacting, that’s the captain, the, the lawyer and the dictator. React. That’s the heart of response ability, the ability to respond rather than thinking of responsibility as blame, you know, like who’s fault is that? Who made this mess? Uh, or burden. Okay, I am responsible so you can just give me all, I’ll do all of this stuff for the PTA and your homework and now, yeah. 

Speaker 1: (19:12)

And so teaching children responsibility is, I think the most valuable, but also the longest term project because it, and the F and the short end, it looks like it would be easier if, Oh, I’ll just do it. Uh, but that deprives them of really learning. When I have an action, here’s the result, and I can learn from that result and it increases my ability to respond. But you know, that, you know, I’ve, I think that takes years. And it also takes the commitment of I want you to be empowered to have a full life where you’re doing what you want to be doing, but you’re also, uh, able to respond to all of the different changes and things that happen even in a day. And that’s where it comes in that we make space for and encourage and allow our children to feel whatever they’re feeling to tell the truth about that in an authentic way. They can be very frustrated or disappointed. I didn’t want to clean up that mess. I don’t feel I should have to. Yeah. Yeah. I don’t either. 

Speaker 1: (20:21)

But I do remember making charts about, um, it has a lot, I think to do with agreements. Do I say, do I do what I say I’m going to do? Do I not do what I say I’m not going to do? And one of the things we did was to create more freedom for more responsibility, less freedom for less responsibility. So I think of that more as an latency into teenage years, but he can start really early too, of here’s our agreement. You know, we’re gonna clean up the toys before we have dessert. That’s, yeah, and you can feel all the ways you feel about that and I’m okay with however that is. Yeah. Any final thoughts? This is just, we’ve just touched the surface of so many wonderful, one of the things we’ve said is that if you have children, you don’t need a therapist that probably only get one, but you don’t need one because you can see your unconscious right there and if you’re willing. 

Speaker 1: (21:23)

I think you know, at the heart of it is that, you know, parenting is a noble and a difficult task and to appreciate yourself for taking on parenting and for helping to create the next generation. And so make sure that you’re giving yourself lots of love and appreciation, not just giving it all to your kids. I was thinking that when you were talking gay also about just how, how much invested parents. Let me say that again. I was just thinking about that when we were talking about appreciation that we do direct it outward, and even those of you just tuning into this and expanding your horizons in the world of parenting and learning, please honor yourself. Pat yourself on the back. Give yourself a little warm hug there. Take a deep breath of appreciation for yourself. Yeah. Well, gosh, thank you. Gay and Katie Hendricks, wonderful work you do in the world and for taking time to sit with me today. It’s just a joy or pleasure. Thank you for coming. 

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