Get to know parenting expert and author Alyson Schafer.
Did you always know that you would be a psychotherapist of some sort? When did you decide to focus on parenting issues?
When I was about 6 years old, I remember asking my father what the difference was between being a child psychiatrist and a child psychologist. He asked me why I wanted to know. I answered, “because when I grow up I want to help children be better understood by adults”.
As the years passed though, I took an interest in biology and completed a science degree. It was only after I become a mother that I re-kindled my passion for psychology and child development. I become a nursery school teacher and eventually went back to school to get an MA in counseling.
There are so many approaches to psychotherapy. I understand that you have been very influenced by Adler. Can you explain why?
I am the third generation in my family to teach Adlerian parenting. My parents taught parenting groups in our living room when I was growing up. I can say I was literally raised Adlerian. My grandmother, Edith Dewey, was a friend and colleague of Dr Rudolf Driekurs who was Adler’s student protégé. My dad and grandmother were the founders of the original Adler Institute in Toronto, where I later got my MA.
As a child growing up, our family often volunteered at conferences to be the demonstration family to teach other clinicians about Adlerian family counseling techniques. Obviously, as a child I didn’t understand much of what was happening, just that it was fun to be in front of a crowd of people talking about parenting. I guess that was foreshadowing my eventual career! It was when I become a mother and read the book my parents used in their study groups that knew I had to share the brilliance of what I was learning with others. I wanted to evangelize for Adlerian parenting.
You talk about so many interesting parenting topics on your blog and in the media. One area that is so timely and important is bullying. What is the first thing that someone should do if they suspect that their child is being bullied?
Speak to your child and share what you have been noticing that concerns you: “I see you are having trouble eating and you are alone in your room a lot instead of with us in the family room. You have a lot of unexplained bruises and now I see you have lost many of your personal possessions. I am wondering if you are feeling you are being mistreated or bullied by someone?”
I love the advice at Prevnet.ca for bullying tips. Check them out.
What if your child specifically asks you not to get involved for fear of repercussions? What do you do then?
I would ask my child to share what they are planning to do and to make sure they are solid ideas. I would let them know that I respect that they want to try their own solutions first. However, if they are unsuccessful it’s your job as a parent to step in. I would assure them your involvement will make matters better – not worse, and share the plan with them too.
How do you think a child becomes a bully? What are the characteristics that lead to bullying behavior?
Bullying is relationship problem that needs a relationship solution. Most children who bully have been the recipients of bullying. They often have parents who are dominating, controlling and punitive in their parenting style. They may have a low self-esteem and compensate for these inferiority feelings by finding a feeling of power by ruling and bossing others. It’s a slave – tyrant relationship they have learned in other relationships in their life, but this time they have the upper hand.
I understand that cyber-bullying is a huge problem today, due to the anonymity afforded to the perpetrators. If you could give 1 or 2 main pieces of advice to parents out there on how to best educate their kids about cyber-bullying, what would your advice be?
- The golden rules: Never say something you wouldn’t say to a person’s face. Never say anything you wouldn’t want published to the public. If you don’t want your hockey coach or grandma to see it, don’t post/text/Instagram it.
- Explain that “liking” or “forwarding” bullying-type posts is a form of bullying. It is not like watching someone be bullied and being passive, its like kicking them on the ground. You are participating.
- Make agreements about your doing spot checks to their privacy settings and activity log to ensure they are using technology respectfully
Throughout your many years of experience, what has been the most difficult parenting issue for you to help your clients with?
Just one?? Children in power struggles with their parents. Very strong willed parents often raise strong willed children and they are good match for one another. Parents want the child to change – they have a difficult time understanding why they need to do something different as parents when they know they are “right”. This is especially true for potty training, sleeping, eating and homework.
If you were asked to give one and only one piece of advice to a new parent, what would that nugget be?
RELAX: children do well despite you – not because of you. The best thing you can do for your child is to teach them how to be responsible for themselves and to help the family and others. For example: not interrupting is a way of being considerate to others and that helps the family.
If you had not become a parenting expert, what other career do you think you might have enjoyed?
Something to do with arts and culture. Eating falls under culture, right?
If you were to be served your last meal, what would it be?
Ha – well, clearly a good question for me given the question above. Linguine pescatore and an arugula salad with warm mushrooms and goat cheese, nice baguette – red wine. MMMMM.
I know you’ve done lots of travel in your career. What is your absolute favorite city and why?
My trip to Brussels and surrounding area was outstanding. It was my first trip abroad and I met the nicest people imaginable. It was that trip that gave me the itch to travel. Now I can’t get enough.
What is your number one motivator on a daily basis?
To do my part in making the world a better place. I know I am helping people and that is so gratifying. I love the notes of appreciation I get from people who have seen their families turn around because of my book, workshop etc..
Are there any current events that really irk you right now?
Yes, I sure do:
- the over prescribing of psychotropic medicine to children
- the growth of surveillance equipment to help parents monitor kids
- the state of our education system.