As many of you know, Village To Village offers 9-week Empowered To Connect (ETC) parenting classes to foster and adoptive parents.  These classes are built around  “The Connected Child” by Dr. Purvis.  She developed her methods specifically as a best approach for kids from “hard places,” but we have had countless biological parents tell us how much this material has changed their homes with their kids who might not fit into that “hard places” category.

We get a lot of questions and interest about what it is exactly we teach.  It is difficult to explain succinctly, so we are going to start breaking it down through regular blog posts!  Embracing connected parenting has been a humbling experience in many ways, but our families are much stronger because of it.  We hope that you can find some encouragement and inspiration from our journeys.     You can find our first parenting blog below.


Connection or correction…what’s my focus?
Three years ago we became foster parents to 3 and 8-year-old girls.  It was the toughest experience of our young lives.  We worked tirelessly to try to meet their needs, but we only seemed to exasperate their issues.  In a place of desperation, we began re-evaluating our parenting strategies. We discovered that we viewed correcting behavior as our primary role as parents.  We felt connected when our kids were behaving, but as soon as it was time to correct, we all fell apart. The tools we used to correct behavior were mostly reactive as opposed to proactive.  To correct behavior, we relied on things like: 
  • Isolation (standing in the corner, time-outs, go to your room, etc..)
  • Verbal Reprimands (“don’t do that”, “stop fighting”, “how many times have I told you”, etc…)
  • Consequences (loss of privilege, additional chores, etc…)
  • Corporal Punishment (we weren’t actually allowed to use this tool yet, but we sure wanted to)
Not only were these tools largely ineffective, but they drove our kids further apart from us emotionally.  Although we told them of our love, provided for their physical needs, and kept them safe, something was keeping them from connecting with us emotionally.
We knew we needed different parenting tools.
In the midst of this frustration, Matt and Stacy Borst invited us to take a look at their connected parenting material.  It flipped our world upside down. 
They talked to us about the importance of distinguishing between natural, logical, and punitive consequences when disciplining our kids.  We learned lots of new parenting tools and had to consider some new questions: 
  • Do we understand that many behaviors are need-driven brain issues as opposed to heart issues?
  • How much proactive parenting are we doing to head off the behaviors before they happen?
  • Do we believe that it is when our kids are at their worst that they need the most connection and nurture from us?
  • Do we recognize that our own personal histories and expectations are probably limiting our ability to parent these kids well, and in turn, making it hard for them to trust us?  

So, our girls don’t trust us?  Even considering that possibility made me upset.  We had bent over backward for them and provided a much safer environment than they had ever known.  How could they not trust us?   And yet, slowly, we began to recognize that our methods of correction did not promote trust.  It started to make sense actually.  Methods like isolation and corporal punishment aren’t acceptable in most relationships.  Imagine this exchange with your spouse?  “Honey, I’ve had to tell you 5 times today to turn the lights off when you leave the kitchen.  Now go stand in the corner for 5 minutes.”   Why is it that I bristle at the thought of my wife treating me like that, but I used to think of it as beneficial for my kids?

The question is never “do I correct?”  But, rather, how do I connect and build trust in the midst of correction?

The basic idea of connected parenting is this:  As an adult, my ability to receive correction and truly desire to change is built on a foundation of trust with the person correcting me.  If my authority figures correct me with shame-inducing punishments, it inhibits my ability to trust them emotionally and affects my self-worth.  Our kids are no different.  Their ability to trust us is directly tied to their belief that we adore and delight in them, not because of their actions, but simply because they are precious.  Kids have underdeveloped brains, and make poor, illogical decisions all the time.  I have to correct them, but I don’t have to shame them.

On the contrary, if I am careful to make my child feel precious and desired in the midst of correction, he becomes more moldable and receptive to my instruction.  His desire to change his behavior is no longer to escape punishment.  It is because he values the relationship with his father. We were catching the vision, but oh we had so many questions.

  • What would our family and friends think? 
  • How would our kids respond? 
  • How could we run our household without the threat of punishments?
  • Even though the threats weren’t working well, we were really good at making them!  If we take those away, will we become permissive parents?
Permissiveness is…the absence of effective parental authority, resulting in the lack of boundaries for the child.  This word represents…the general confusion that occurs in the absence of adult leadership.  (Dobson, full quote here)

We wrestled with the appearance of permissiveness for many months, but we came to understand that permissiveness isn’t the absence of punishment, but the absence of authority and boundaries.  This understanding put us at ease, because connected parenting establishes clear parental authority, boundaries, and leadership.  To be sure, kids need to know their parents are in charge in order to feel safe and secure. Desperation pushed us into this approach, and, contrary to our fears, learning and implementing connected parenting tools dramatically improved both our parental authority and our relationships with our kids.  After years of learning and practicing a different parental mindset, we feel like we’re finally starting to get the hang of it.  It’s been hard, even exhausting, but it has changed our lives.  Not only have we seen a significant increase in desired behaviors, but our kids are connected to us in a way we once thought impossible.

It turns out that deep emotional connection is a more effective agent of change than fear of punishment.

Please don’t think that we have some sort of perfect home now.  We all still mess up regularly, but our kids now feel desired and valued in a way that simply wasn’t possible before.  We actually address behaviors more quickly now than we used to, but we have a lot less drama and a lot more fun.  Our kids still struggle to feel safe sometimes when we need to correct them, but they more readily accept our authority knowing that we are ultimately focused on connection…not correction. Dr. Purvis says it best.

This is an introduction to a 3 part series.  Links are below. Step #1 (Facing Your Past), Step #2 Letting Go of Punishments,  and Step #3 (Learning Trust-Based ParentingTools). If you are interested in parent coaching, reach out to us through our website here.