This March, we Highlight Another Authority Magazine Interview of one of Serenity’s Therapist’s, Ryanne Mellick
Parenting is challenging. We all try so hard to give our all to our children. We desperately want them to feel loved and connected. But somehow there is often a disconnect. Perhaps it's a generational thing, or that we don't seem to speak the same language as our children, or just all of the "disconnection" that our kids are dealing with in today's frenetic world. What are steps that parents can take to help their children feel loved and connected? As a part of our series about “How to Raise Children Who Feel Loved and Connected” we had the pleasure to interview Ryanne Mellick
Ryanne is a child and family therapist with over 10 years of experience in mental health. She provides mental health services with an integrative and mindfulness-based focus to ensure an individual and collaborative approach. Ryanne is passionate about helping others improve their mental well-being through simple and effective self-care activities.
Thank you so much for joining us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know a bit about you. Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?
I remember my childhood being full of learning, adventure, freedom, and some strict consequences at times. My parents, both entrepreneurs, worked a great deal to support myself and my two younger sisters. I always felt that my parents were more liberal in their parenting approach and felt that natural consequences were the best way to learn. I grew up in the suburbs, where there was space to run and explore, and s a family, we traveled and spent time with our neighbors frequently. I felt loved by and connected with my parents, but that was pre-technology and cell phones, which made communication in-person necessary. As an adult, I think my childhood taught me a lot of valuable lessons and afforded me many opportunities to test my own resilience and ability to be self-sufficient. My childhood also taught me about how I want to parent my own child.
Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?
This is really a two-part answer for me. My decision to work in mental health as a career was solidified following my dad’s cancer diagnose in 2012. During his treatment he had many wonderful professionals taking care of him, and following his passing, I met many therapists that supported me through my own grief journey. As a mom to a toddler, I have learned that how we love, interact with, and connect with our children is one of the most valuable and important parts of child development. For myself, becoming a parent really shifted how I view the world, and also how I want my child to show up in the world.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you explain to us why it is so important to forge a strong connection with our children?
Connection is how we learn and grow. Connection teaches us about the world and how we can healthily interact with people. In children, specifically, connection to the parent or caregiver provides them with a sense of safety, which in turn, allows the child to continue to reach out to have a need met. When we are attuned to our children, we can help them learn important skills such as self-regulation, empathy, and trust, all of which carry forward as the child grows.
What happens when children do not have that connection, or only have a weak connection?
If the connection is absent, or weak, this can lead to children not reaching out for support. Infants, for example, will learn to stop crying if they cry and a caregiver doesn’t respond. This is an extreme example, but effectively demonstrates what can happen. If a child is not shown love or support, they won’t necessarily know how to translate that into their own life and relationships, which can make for a very isolating and lonely life. Lack of connection can show up in poor social skills, behavioral and emotional dysregulation, and lack of empathy or compassion for others.
Do you think children in this generation are less likely to feel loved and connected? Why do you feel the way you do?
I would agree that children are less likely to “feel” loved and connected, but I wouldn’t agree that this is always the case. I think technology plays a crucial role in how we connect with others and not having that face-to-face interaction can cause barriers for expressing our love and being connected to others. When we connect with someone, face-to-face, we are able to hear the tone of the voice, pick up on inflections, see their body language, maybe hug, or shake hands, all of which foster our sense of love and connection. With technology, almost all of that is missing, so sometimes the tone can be misconstrued, or the comment doesn’t land right, leading to us feeling less loved and connected. It all comes down to the intent behind our actions and how we can continue to show our love for someone and help them feel connected to us.
We live in a world with incessant demands for our time and attention. There is so much distraction and disconnection. Can you share with our readers 5 steps that parents can take to help their children feel loved and connected? Please include examples or stories for each, if you can.
Defining how we love ourselves, and how we show love, can help us determine how we share our love. Once we do this, we can share the definition of love with our children and love them more wholly.
Respond when your child asks for help. Their thoughts, feelings, and emotions matter, no matter how old they are.
Give them space to be their own person. Let them be curious and learn about the world around them. Foster their interests and give them the opportunity to decide what they are or are not interested in.
Meet your child where they are at. My daughter started dance this past fall, and it was a rocky start. She has taken about six months to go into the dance studio without tears, and we have learned that she is observant and will participate when she feels safe and ready. This can be frustrating for parents, but allowing your child the chance to develop their own trust muscle will provide them with a great sense of security throughout their life.
Disconnect from the screens. If you are going to reduce your children’s screen time, you should do the same. Take dinner time and make it a no screen zone, go for a walk without phones, play a board game instead of video games. All of these interactions will help to foster the sense of connection and love between you and your child.
How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?
This is such a great question, but also a loaded question. Good parenting is so much more than “good or bad” and “right or wrong,” it’s truly about how we show up for our children and when we interact with them. Are we paying attention when they are talking to us, or are we too busy texting someone else or sending off that last minute work email? Are we acknowledging and validating their thoughts, feelings, and emotions? Do we allow them to have big feelings, and in turn teach them what to do with them? As a parent, I often ask myself, “how can I show up for my daughter today?” What does she need from me to know that I am present and there for her? These are questions I pose to my clients as well. Remember, the dishes will still be there in ten minutes, but that time with your child when they are wanting to spend time with you or show you something is fleeting. To sum it up, being a “good parent” is showing up with intent.
How do you inspire your child to "dream big"? Can you give an example or story?
My child has a big personality. She is going to turn three this summer, and as her parents, we try our best to foster and support her growing brain and personality any way we can. Asking questions, taking her to see new experiences, and sharing the world with her, is how we are inspiring her to “dream big.” This works across the board, for all parents and caregivers. If you can meet your child where they are at and be curious yourself, this will teach them that the sky is the limit and give them space to dream big.
How would you define “success” when it comes to raising children?
The biggest success in raising a child, is raising them to be the type of person that makes you feel proud as a parent. Personally, as I raise my own daughter, I want her to be kind, intentional, curious, and inquisitive. I want her to help the kid next to her who fell down or open the door for someone. I want her to ask big questions and be curious about the world around her. To me, that’s success. There will be good and bad days, wins and losses, and a lot of tweaking, adjusting, and compromising along the way, but that’s the beauty of parenting. We get to determine what “success” looks like for our own selves as we raise our own children.
This is a huge topic in itself, but it would be worthwhile to touch upon it here. What are some ideal social media and digital habits that you think parents should teach to their children?
This is such a sensitive topic, and I try to provide support and guidance around this topic in a really gentle way. What works for one family or child, won’t likely work for the next, so it’s really important to take your own child, family, and lifestyle into consideration when addressing social media and digital habits. Safety on social media is very important, this can be hard to monitor, but there are apps and parental controls that provide ways to do this. Also, making sure that your child is watching age-appropriate content is important. Using social media and digital outlets should provide the child with engagement and education rather than the opportunity to zone out. This is where it can get a bit tricky, but engaging with your child while watching something on social media will help to foster connection and communication. As children get older, I caution parents against using cell phones as a form of punishment primarily because this is the child’s connection to the world. Often times, taking away the phone takes away their outlets which can make behaviors or symptoms worse, having guidelines and boundaries around social media and technology use can help with this.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them? I have a list of go-to’s that I recommend to all of the parents that I work with, and even people in my life who I think would benefit from learning more about parenting.
The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Sigel, M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.: This book is life-changing, practical, and offers an easy understanding of brain development, specifically in children. You learn how a the brain develops and why kids behave the way they do sometimes. It’s enlightening and this is my most recommended resource for parents.
Raising Good Humans by Hunter Clarke-Fields, MSAE: is a book about mindful parenting and how to break the cycle of reactive parenting to show up better for our children. Another easy and digestible read with real-life scenarios and prompts to help parents and caregivers learn and implement more mindful ways of parenting.
Dr. Siggie: She can be found on Instagram or her website. Her focus is on increasing the connection between parents and child. She offers great educational tips within her free resources as well as parenting courses.
Burnout by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., and Amelia Nagoski, DMA: This book is not geared specifically toward parenting, but in our high-demand culture, burnout can affect how we parent. This book breaks down the stress cycle and teaches ways to bring more balance and joy back into our lives.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote"? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“It is what it is.” When I was 25, my dad, who was 48 years old, passed away very quickly following a grim cancer diagnosis. Throughout his life and his 6 weeks of cancer treatment, continued to say, “it is what it is.” There are experiences in life that we can and cannot control, learning to recognize that and being able to acknowledge those situations changed how I react and respond to people and experiences, and essentially changes my life.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
That we learn by observing and being in the presence of others. Our social and emotional skills are learned through watching our parents, teachers, friends, and caregivers. The more that we can love, support, and connect with children, the more loved and connected they will feel.