Dr. Vivian Okoye, a child psychologist and parenting coach, is the founder Vivian Okoye Parenting Academy. In this interview with ENE OSHABA, she x-rays parenting challenges in modern day society and ways of surmounting them.
What is the parenting academy all about?
At the Vivian Okoye Parenting Academy we help parents heal from their childhood trauma so they can raise wholesome, confident and trauma-free children because we believe that this is our part way to nation building.
If we get it right as a family we will be able to get it right as a society because the society is a cluster of families.
What did you mean by childhood trauma?
We believe that trauma is a generational thing and there are conditionings and there are wounds that our own parents heaped on us that if we don’t deal with, we will also heap on our children. So, going in awareness entails understanding that there are things my parents have done to me that are not correct that are affecting me today.
The question then is: what can I do to let go of those things? So that I am showing up to the parenting relationship that I have with my children now in a more empowering way, in a way that empowers my child to fit in, and to thrive in this era in the 21st century that they found themselves.
Parenting is 18-year project of active teaching to equip children to function properly in the society and world at large.
What is your take on children having access to information technology, especially internet?
Technology exposure, the internet and whatever we want to call it, is not the problem. It is the parent’s responsibility to control access to technology or to give children access or not to give. So, we can’t blame it on the kids.
Children do not come into the world knowing anything, they came in as empty as a blank sheet, and just like a blank sheet of paper it’s what we write or allow into their lives, the people we allow into their lives, or the training we put in that will determine the kind of people they will be eventually.
So, it all boils down to who the parents are; how they are showing up for the children; what they are teaching the children; as well as what they are allowing and not allowing into the children’s lives.
Are there peculiar challenges with raising children especially with most mothers as career women?
The first thing is that every parent thinks that desire is enough to raise an amazing child, and then you think because you desire it that’s enough, that’s not true. There is work and decision that follows that desire.
Another thing is that we are not evolving as parents; we are still looking at children with the same eyes that we used to look at ourselves not realising that life has evolved, things have changed, children are smarter and are exposed to more technology and information.
You can’t be an analogue parent parenting a digital child. You have to be up-to-date to what the children are being exposed to, and then you can be ahead and be your child’s primary source of information.
Also, we are thinking that the method of parenting that our parents used, where they were not emotionally available and were so strict on us, would work with our children.
Most of us are still using that method at this time not realising that now, when we push children out and we are not available, they have a lot of things to run to which might be detrimental to their wellbeing.
During our time there were limited things, so no matter what your parents did to you, you will still come back home; but now, children have lots of vices calling them. They have technology they could get addicted to; they have other children who are so exposed that they can influence them, usually negatively, if we are not available and accessible.
Also, yes the careers, the bills are there and that distracts us and makes us delegate parenting to house helps, to television, to train our children and all of that. All these are real challenges.
However, the important thing is to understand what the challenges are; there is no challenge that you cannot figure out how to navigate no matter what your realities are.
So, that is why there is need to know what it takes to be a conscious and intentional parent. It is important so that you can say this is what my current challenge with this child is and you seat and think out how to navigate these challenges and if you don’t know you learn.
That is why we are doing what we do, for instance, if your challenge is how to manage your child’s behaviour you need to go learn how to communicate or set boundaries.
For some people, their challenge might just be to create time; some might just be to get the right support or to build a right family system that will help you achieve your goals.
Is it true that every child’s behaviour is a reflection of their parenting/background
In psychology there is nature and nurture so nature is the inborn temperament characteristics of the child which is how the child came into the world. This is a fundamental issue because a lot of parents haven’t studied or paid attention to the nature of the child because understanding the nature of the child will determine how you nurture them because no two children are the same.
There is a child you will punish for wrong doing and they are depressed for the whole day and there is a child you will punish and the next minute they are playing so you need to understand the child to know how to show up for that child, how to train, educate and correct that particular child.
Parents have to work hand in hand, understanding who the child is, knowing their temperament, how do they like to be loved? Their learning style, among others and when you know all of that you use that to plan your own parenting because every nature has a strength and a weakness.
So, knowing your child’s nature will help you know what their weakness or strength are and how to work through this weakness. Let me give an example, we have children who we typically call stubborn but that is someone who is strong-willed, who will question you, and not obey you out rightly, and that is a strength. So, while it is a struggle for a parent, it is also a strength that should be well managed for the future because that’s the same strength they will use to fight peer pressure, that’s the same strength they will use to enter into business and be dogged. So, it’s actually their strength.
What you should do is ask: how do I manage this strength? How do I teach my child to obey without breaking their nature? So, that’s where parenting comes in. This is when learning comes in; you need to learn these if you don’t know already if you really need that change you desire.
How then can a strong willed parent correct a strong willed child?
We were having that conversation one day and I said that beyond salvation and the Holy Spirit the next thing that can change a human being is parenting because parenting is that one thing that helps you look at yourself and say this does not serve me.
If I want to raise this kind of child then I need to be this kind of person, and yes, you can be a strong willed parent raising a strong willed child but you being the superior intelligent person will be held more accountable knowing that you can think logically and say this my nature doesn’t serve us at this moment.
However, you have to ask: how do we go about this so we don’t hurt each other or jeopardise the relationship or influence I want to have on my child as a parent? So, you are able to hold yourself back to say: we would deal with this when I’m calm.
What would you say are the ideal principles of parenting?
My ideal message to parents is that you shouldn’t think that you know it all; show up with an openness and willingness to think about what you are doing; be open and humble enough to ask for help when you need it. Ask the right questions; am I doing it right? Is this serving me or serving my child?
I am very particular about breaking the trauma cycle because I have seen that trauma is the main challenge that we have. Be determined to work on yourself if you are the problem so you will not be a problem for your child. Heal from your own wounds so that your children will not suffer your own wounds in the future. This is important because that’s the major problem we have. Parents should heal from their own wounds like self esteem and confidence because of how they were raised; so they should be confident enough to ask for help on how best to raise their kids. Many parents, due to how they were raised, are struggling with confidence and self esteem and it’s affecting our work and relationships and you don’t want your kids to use the strength they are supposed to use to pursue their purpose in healing from the effect of what you did to them in their childhood. So, we need to be conscious of that so we would be able to put in the work so that we are showing up in a way that is empowering.
There appears to be a conflict between how teachers and parents raise children, what us your advice in this regard?
I always tell parents that it is a collaborative effort between parents and the school. You don’t leave the work for the school alone, you are the pioneer and just like you are the head of the train while other people that have access to the child are the coaches and wherever the head goes, so the coaches go. So, the school cannot do what you haven’t done at home; the school is primarily for your child’s academics.
There are five key areas to train your child in which are: behaviour, academics, talent, spirituality and self care, you have to take care of these aspects and then the school will support what you are doing. So, parents should be involved, be available, put yourself in your child’s school work and know the kind of relationships they have in school because these relationships also influence them in one way or another.
Know who their friends are, who are their teachers, and what kind of communication are they having etc. Have these conversations and then do your own work of parenting so as to make it easier for the school.
What we see in the society such as crime, kidnapping, vices is reflection of what is happening in society so we should have conversations with kids not to do things that are not right and generally when things are going wrong in the society it’s a call to action for people to go back home and have the conversation by ensuring that our family members do not repeat the bad they see outside the home and when you always do this we are contributing to nation building.
Does government have any role in parenting?
Yes, the government has a role but the government is also a people. It’s a long journey of redefining our values and things important to us, learning how to call out evil and if we start to teach children to call out evil for what it is, to be kind, fair, and caring, in the long run it will play out in our society and in the government that we have.
In the society that has failed there are people who are good. The difference is how strong your values are. For instance, no matter how harsh the economy is I will never steal or kill. No matter how I’m pushed to the wall I will always find a way to make an honest living. But there are people who at any slight provocation they are ready to be dubious so it still boils down to how you are raised. Let us stay committed to becoming better people and raising better humans.