Return to site

The sturdiness of a parent

In a recent podcast with Dr. Andrew Huberman, psychologist Dr. Becky Kennedy discusses the importance of being a sturdy parent.

What is sturdiness? Sturdiness in my mind conjures up images of....a brick house (3 little pigs?), a well built desk, a strong chair. Dr. Becky says that it is important for parents to be sturdy, but what does that mean?

She defines sturdiness as: the parent setting boundaries (these boundaries are the what the parent does, the child has to do nothing; ex: the child is allowed to watch one tv show). The other part of the definition is about the child: validate the feeling and respond with empathy. Validate the feeling (you're upset because you want to watch another TV show, I know!) and then respond with empathy (I get it, sometimes I want to watch another show, too.) This shows sturdiness. The boundary isn't moved (you don't give in to another TV show), but it also acknowledges your child has feelings about your boundary---and that's okay! Validating the feelings will help your child with regulating emotions rather than suppressing what they feel.

Here's a great example she shared to bring the point home:

“Imagine being on a plane, and you’re on a plane to Los Angeles, but then you hear from your pilot that they need to make an emergency landing in Denver,” she said. “Imagine if the pilot said it this way: ‘Is it okay with everyone? Have you seen the weather out there? It’s not so safe, right? Maybe an emergency landing?’ Can you imagine if your pilot heard the protest of the passengers. ‘Oh I have to land in Denver, that’s gonna be so annoying.’ And then you heard the pilot say, ‘Oh, okay. Actually forget the whole emergency landing thing. We’re gonna keep going to Los Angeles.’”

“There are moments when you need a leader to be sturdy; to deliver a decision that’s not collaborative because it’s actually in everyone’s best interest,” Dr. Becky explained. “This is the same as parenting. Of course there’s moments to collaborate with our kids. There are also moments to own our authority and make the decision ourselves, because that’s what it means to be a sturdy leader.”

“Set your boundary; validate their feelings; respond with empathy.”