Welcome to an interview with Kerry Beymer, our manager of parenting support and education. She will lead our Parenting Counts workshop series at Swedish Issaquah that runs from 6 to 8 p.m. on Monday evenings May 7, May 14, May 21 and June 7, 2012. This series is free with online registration. Plus, Adventure Kids Playcare at Swedish Issaquah is offering a 30 percent discount for this series. For more info, click the photo of Kerry!
Why is Parenting Counts important for any young parent?
I think it takes a different approach than most parenting classes. In most parenting classes, you’re working on skills to solve a behavior problem – such as, “What do I do when my kid is having a tantrum?” “Well, we’re going to work on this, this and this.” And it’s not that we don’t address those things in these workshops, but it’s more about development and what’s happening in kids’ brains to make them react to a certain thing. We know so much more in the last five years because of research that’s being done in infant mental health. It’s giving parents a glimpse into that world.
Can you give us a glimpse into the research?
We now know that infants are processing things so much faster than we ever thought they could, and what happens in that first year makes so much more of a difference than we ever thought. We used to think, “Yes, we know that it’s ramped up birth to age 3. We know that growth and brain development is heightened, the most it will ever be in your life, birth to 3. But there’s so much more going on and so much that parents can do to have healthy responses. This workshop series addresses that more than any I have ever seen.
It sounds like a huge insight.
Those early years are delicate years, and the things that you do matter. It matters. That’s why they call it Parenting Counts. What we do as parents really counts during those times.
What is a concrete example of how what parents do matters?
The thing that I really like about this is that it’s very research-focused. So there are several studies citied in this curriculum. One of them is that they looked at vocabulary of kids and how many words that they actually heard during the day, and it matters how much you’re talking to your kid. Those kids who heard an average of 2,100 words a day versus 600 words a day had a higher, richer vocabulary. So it’s just being very thoughtful about it.
One example is the difference when a parent says, “Oh, honey, that’s a flower,” versus, “Oh, honey, this is a flower. It’s called a gardenia. It’s red. Isn’t it beautiful?” Using more expressive language helps kids pick up those words faster. We might think that because it’s a 1-year-old, we say, “Yes! Pretty flower!” and we don’t have to say all those words. But the more words we say, the more they’re going to pick up and have a stronger vocabulary.
Is what you are teaching already instinctual in parents, or is it something that parents really have to learn?
I think it is instinctual to a lot of parents. But again, if you could be cognizant when you are having these conversations with your children, you could tell yourself, “You know, I’m going to expand their vocabulary. I’m going to really make an effort to have a lot of conversations with them at this age because I know it’s going to increase their vocabulary, which is going to help their literacy, which is going to help their reading skill.”
It’s like a cascade.
Yes, all these things happen if I do this.
It’s being intentional. In other words, we know some of these things, but it’s getting it in the front of our minds to make sure that we do it?
Yes, that’s exactly it.
Given that you have two older children, what are some of the insights from “Parenting Counts” that have broadened your own horizons?
I think it’s shown me some of the things that I’ve absolutely done wrong. I can clearly look back and see that “Wow, I could have done a way better job of that. I didn’t know that that would have an effect on my kids.” Kids look to us all the time for our reaction to things, and if it’s a stressful situation, like “Wow, this is the first time I’ve gone down the slide,” it’s instinctual for kids to look to their parents for them to say, “Come on, you can do it, you can do it!” So they’re looking to you all the time: “Is this safe for me to do? Is this OK for me to do? I need some kind of visual cue of you to say, ‘Yes, it is OK.’”
I wanted to be a great mom, but I cannot stand snakes. One day, there was this beautiful, big, fat garter snake in our front yard, and I took my son over there and said, “Look at the snake.” But it hissed at us, and I ran like a screaming lunatic into the house. It really affected him. He won’t go into the nocturnal house at the zoo, right? He hates snakes. That needed to happen only one time – for him to look at his mom’s cues and say, “That’s bad, that is so scary, and so I never, ever want to be around that anymore.” I think as he gets older, with peer pressure, kids will say, “It’s a snake,” but I think deep inside of his heart he’s going to remember that stressful reaction to that situation.
What can parents get from a workshop setting that they can’t get from a book or a video?
I think it’s the small-group discussion and just talking to other parents. Some of the best solutions to problems come from the classroom. They don’t come from me. In the conversations that we have, one parent will say, “I did this, and it worked really well.” Wow, that’s fabulous. Just getting people together with similar-age kids, they’re going to find that they have a lot of commonality, and there’s a lot of really good problem-solving that can come in a classroom versus picking up a book or seeing a video. You’re going to get way more discussion out of it.
How rare is this series?
We’re the only ones who are teaching it right now on the Eastside.
The material for the workshop series comes from the Talaris Institute in Seattle. Why is the connection to Talaris so important for Encompass?
In 2010, I was working on a statewide professional development project for parent educators, and Talaris had invited all of us to attend their rollout of a new parenting program. Talaris is a research institute, and they do all this research on the brain and child development. They took all that they have been researching and put it into some bricks-and-mortar, something that could be replicated. About 250 people were trained. But we are the only ones we know of who have developed a workshop series from that.
Is Talaris nationally and internationally known for this?
They’re the leaders in research in child development. They’re the industry standard.
So for you, as parenting education manager at Encompass, and knowing that everything Encompass does is based on proven research, to become certified by Talaris was a no-brainer?
I leapt at the chance. Pushed people out of the way to get to the front of the classroom, right? They are the leaders in this work, so, of course, we want to be right there. This is the most current information that we have about development. The studies cited are 2009 and 2005. That sounds several years old, but previously we had studies done in 1974 that we were basing our classes on. Now we have longitudinal studies that finished in the past five years that followed children into adulthood over decades. So now we have so much more knowledge.
We went from putting little wires on babies’ brains to what is now being called a data tsunami. Now we can pinpoint exactly what part of the brain is thinking and developing when certain stimuli are shown to a baby. Before, we kind of knew what area it’s coming from, but now we can pinpoint to a millimeter inside the brain. To me, it’s so incredible that it’s even a possibility in the last five years because it’s both what part of the brain is working and what part isn’t. It’s just really awesome to be in the Seattle area. I feel that this area has really savvy parents because we benefit from all this research.