• Alisa Daly

“It Takes a Village” - The story behind the creation of the FFCA & Connected Parenting Clinics

Updated: Oct 7, 2019

It was December 2016, the very first time I sat on the couch in the office of Cindy Smolkin from Connected Parenting. I was 35, I had been a mom for 8 years, and I was the Director of a Preschool. I checked all the boxes for someone that should have been able to confidently and happily parent my curly haired, delicious little 3 year-old, Noah. While parenting through the toddler/preschool age with my now 11-year old son Ben had not been “easy,” it was an adventure that my husband and I figured out somewhat naturally as we went. This was not the case with Noah. We were living in a constant state of fear of when the next tantrum would come. We would tell him it was time to come to the table for dinner (yes, we gave him many warnings!) and he would explode, throwing himself on the floor. He would get water on his shirt and he would melt down as if the world had just ended. These explosive meltdowns happened regularly throughout our day and it was awful for everyone, especially Noah. It got to the point where we often would just not tell him to come for dinner to avoid the screaming and we would keep dry clothing around to try and prevent the next tantrum.

When I sat down on Cindy’s couch, I didn’t know what to expect. I had no concept as to whether I was signing myself up for a life of therapy to learn how to parent my child or how this would work. I just knew we needed help. Over the next hour, in the most empathetic and compassionate way, Cindy took us through three things.

First, Cindy fundamentally explained Noah to us. Yes, we were his parents, but in retrospect, we did not understand him. She went through what it was like to be him melting down all day with the adult world telling him “you are fine, this is not a big deal!” Every time we said come for dinner, turn off the TV, get in the bath, you can’t have dessert tonight, share your train, wear the sweatshirt with the hood, he lost his mind screaming and then we lost our patience. It was a constant stream of the adult world telling him, your feelings don’t matter.

Second, Cindy helped us understand that the way in which we were parenting him was never going to work and furthermore, she explained the impact that our parenting, as it was unfolding, would have on him. She told us that every time we chose not to call Noah for dinner because we were scared of his tantrum, we were basically telling him, “you don’t have to come for dinner because as your parents, we don’t believe you can handle it.” Cindy also explained that every time Noah got water on his shirt, it was the equivalent of an attack to him and that each time we changed his shirt we were confirming to him that “yes, water on your shirt is extremely dangerous and we must get you out of that wet shirt immediately and no, you cannot handle this!”

Third, Cindy went over the very basics of Connected Parenting. She taught us how to “mirror,” which is a fancy word for showing ruthless compassion. It is a therapy skill that Connected Parenting teaches parents, that we now use at First Foundations in our classrooms. She also taught us about “baby play” and explained to us that sometimes kids “tanks” run on empty and when their behaviour is so heightened and escalated, they need “baby play” (literally cuddling with your child, showing them baby pictures, speaking to them like a baby as this releases oxytocin in their brain). Cindy told us that learning to mirror and incorporating baby play into our day was our homework and our ticket to a new parenting approach. It was pretty straightforward.

The session was only an hour, but I left a different parent. Cindy had only given us 2 strategies, but by explaining our child to us and what life was like for him, it allowed me to undergo a complete mind-shift. I remember feeling like I no longer had to parent from a place of fear and dread and that I could now parent from a place of knowledge and confidence. I knew that it was not going to be easy and that I was going to have to dig deep and find the patience for all of it, but it felt like a much safer more comfortable place to be with Noah than the place we were in before.

Fast forward to September 2019. Noah is an amazing 6 year -old. When he goes to bed each night, he says to himself “I am filing up my tank and I can handle this”. We have come a very long way and it is so cool! My husband and I still have to dig deep each and every day, the meltdowns still happen, but we are all in a different place. We are able to compassionately show Noah that we get what it is like to have such big feelings all the time and show him what he needs from us as his parents to manage those feelings. While over the past 3 years in my role as the Director of FFCA I have done a ton of work with Cindy professionally and Noah does sees her periodically himself, I know in my gut that the first session I did with Cindy, had it been the only session, would have been more than enough for me and my husband.

This understanding of how impactful that first one-hour session with Connected Parenting was is what motivated me to launch the FFCA and Connected Parenting Clinics with Cindy. I wanted to give each parent at FFCA the opportunity to experience what I had -- Not because everyone has such an extreme situation at home like I had with Noah, but because the families at FFCA often have multiple young kids and life is busy and hard and parenting does not come with a manual! I knew that if I could get so much out of a one-hour session that our clinics could have the ability to really be impactful for parents (the majority of whom are not in such extreme situations at home). We did our pilot sessions last spring and they were amazing. It was wonderful to be able to offer our own couch to parents to sink into and leave an hour later feeling nurtured, validated, empowered and a bit more able to take on parenting because most times it takes a village.

We have 28 clinic sessions available between now and winter break and I am so thrilled (and proud) that the majority of those clinics are booked. If you have not signed up, please come see us, you don’t have to struggle, we are in this parenting thing together.