Are there wrong ways to parent? How can we be aware if any of these bleed into our own practices? In this episode, we delve into the intricate landscape of modern child rearing, navigating the complexities with the insightful Jessica Sinarski as our guide. Join us as we explore the world of mindful parenting and trauma-informed child rearing. Jessica passionately discusses the profound impact of the internet and social media on today’s caregivers and the developing minds of their children. She takes us on a journey through the “downstairs brain attention,” offering practical wisdom on setting social media boundaries and managing the relentless cascade of stimuli. With a compassionate focus on embracing and finding our way through the experiences that fuel anger, Jessica shares her expertise in addressing trauma with both adults and kids, emphasizing the importance of caregivers beyond biological parents. Discover the transformative power of supporting children in learning more about their emotions, effectively managing behavior, and unlocking their untapped potential. Jessica, an instigator of hope, guides us toward a path where hope, peace, and connection allow us to feel a little more safe, seen, and valued in the ever-evolving landscape of mindful parenting. Don’t miss this thought-provoking discussion that will undoubtedly reshape your approach to raising the next generation.
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Mindful Parenting: Trauma-Informed Child Rearing In The Social Media Age With Jessica Sinarski
Our guest, Jessica, and I have been talking about a lot of different elements of children. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t have children, but I’m very passionate about children. I grew up babysitting. That was my first line of work. I was around a lot of different types of kids, parenting styles, and situations.
As an adult, I see my friends and family members having kids and hear stories about what it’s like to raise them and the challenges that come up. In parenting, there’s no way around challenges, I’m assuming. I can’t speak from personal experience. I don’t think there’s such a thing as being a perfect parent doing it right all of the time. That’s the nature of it in theory, but that doesn’t mean that isn’t challenging.
One thing I really am looking forward to discussing with you is the and side of parenting where it’s about taking care of children and yourself as a parent. It is acknowledging the roles in which a parent needs to work through and understand themselves in order to understand their children. Even saying that line, one place I can start is that I feel like I have done so much work on myself as a human being, and sometimes, I wish my parents would do more work on themselves, to be frank.
I wonder, “What would be like if my parents also went to therapy? What would it be like if it wasn’t so much about that dynamic of them being the authority figure?” That was what I grew up with. I still go through challenging times with my parents. Our dynamic is very much about what I need to do versus what we need to do together. Perhaps that’s why this resonates with me so much.
This is a great place to dive in. First, thank you for having me on your show. I’m excited to have a conversation about this and about this little word that can mean so much. When you first started saying it’s an important topic to you when you were younger, I thought you were going to say you were a child because we all were. We all were children. Yet, somehow, as adults, it’s hard for us to remember what it felt like or maybe even what we needed or didn’t realize we needed. That’s maybe part of what you’re alluding to in doing your own work as an adult. If any adult, but especially if we as parents aren’t paying attention to our own patterns, we have a tendency to repeat them. Sometimes, that can go well, and sometimes, we can end up repeating things that we don’t really want to.
Since I don’t have experience as a parent, I default to my experience as a child and even as an adult feeling like I’m the child of my parents. I’m fortunate that they’re still alive, but I certainly feel like that dynamic is still in place. That gives a lot of perspective because I suppose as long as a parent is alive and their children are alive, that dynamic is going to continue and it will evolve. Your relationship together changes as you get older.
There are a lot of things that still feel very familiar and similar, in my experience at least, to what they were like when I was a kid. Through therapy, something that has come up a lot is thinking back to how I was parenting and what my experience was like as a kid. That’s a great reminder, too, that parents have this big responsibility because they probably have one of the biggest impacts on a child’s mental health.
There are two things that came to mind as you were talking. One is for parents who are reading, I want to say, “Take a breath. It’s okay. You’re not doing everything wrong. We’re good. This isn’t a blame-the-parents conversation. Hang with us. You’re not doing everything wrong.” There’s so much out there on social media or in the news that’s clickbait about three ways you’re destroying your relationship with your child or five things you should never say again, or whatever. I’m like, “We’re focusing on the wrong things here.”
The second piece is I really started digging into the brain science behind parenting as well as how brains develop and how we as humans develop. You spoke about how important the parent-child relationship is in our development. That can feel like a lot of pressure. I felt like parents don’t always have the kind of support they need, especially if they’re trying to break cycles or they’re trying to walk a different path. I feel like that’s where my work has evolved in the last few years or so. It is to empower the cycle breakers, the change makers, or the people who want to do something different.
It’s happening in a little bit of a weird way because I feel like some of the magic sauce is in this weird space of brain science. Somehow, learning and understanding how we’re wired and what impacts the brain and development can change not just behavior but change relationships and emotions. It can change so many things for the better.
Specifically in the parent-child relationship, a lot of us were raised with the parent as the boss. The parent has the role of the boss. That is the main role or the most important role and you will respect that role. What I see from a brain perspective is we have three pretty distinct roles as parents. Boss is one of them, but it’s not the first role.
The very first role and the biggest and potentially most lasting role for a parent is the first comforter. If you think about a newborn baby, you’re not bossing that baby around. You are meeting needs. You are soothing. You are comforting in every way you can possibly figure out. You’re driving for twelve hours to try to get this baby to go to sleep. You’re doing all of the things to comfort. If you think about it, ideally, that role lasts forever.
When you were talking about what you wish maybe you could come to your parents with in different times of your life, you don’t need them to boss you. That era has passed. That door has closed, but wouldn’t it be nice if there were some times when things were really tough, not that they should be your only comfort, but that you could still turn to them to say, “This is hard,” and they could say, “It makes sense that that’s hard. I got you.”
It’s comforting to hear you talk about comfort in that way. Everybody has different dynamics with their parents. The reason it feels important at this moment to speak about that is not just to offer my own experience, but to share how long-lasting that parent dynamic is, and also the teacher. The school environment plays a big role in how children feel. I spoke to a guest, Dr. Tracee. We talked a lot about the school system and the after-school program she runs. I’m really curious to hear from you about the role of school.
You had mentioned to me before we started recording the dynamic between parents and teachers and their responsibilities, the roles that each has, and how they can work together instead of saying, “My kid is in school now. They’re out of my hands,” or, “I don’t need to think about them until they come back. Hopefully, nothing bad happened at school.” What is that dynamic between parent and teacher and teacher and kid alone without the parents involved?
There’s so much to unpack there. I feel like it comes back to this theme of and. There are layers upon layers of what’s going on for each individual along with what’s going on in the relationship. If we’re thinking about kid and teacher, there is certainly the student-teacher dynamic where this kid is there, hopefully, to learn, but we know that there are some things that impact our availability to learn.
Since kids are not little adults and they’re still humans under construction, there’s also an element that teachers play a role in building students’ brains not just from an academic perspective but from a social and emotional perspective. Similar to the caveat that I gave to parents reading, for teachers reading, take a breath. Hang with me. It can feel like a lot of pressure.
Part of what I love about my work is that these things that we tend to avoid, like acknowledging that there’s this pressure there or acknowledging that we impact each other and that my stress has an effect on you and vice versa, if we don’t say anything, that doesn’t make the thing go away. What if we could approach it and still have hope? It doesn’t have to be so big and scary.
That is really my hope not just in our conversation but in general in the resources that I create and the way I interact online. There’s a lot that we have to hold as parents and as teachers. That might feel especially heavy if you haven’t always gotten what you needed even if your parents did everything they knew how to do.
Chazz Lewis talks about this really well. Mr. Chazz online talks about how we can honor and recognize that maybe our parents broke a few cycles themselves even if they didn’t give us exactly what we needed because of how we’re wired or all of the experiences that we had, or our goodness of fit together. In the world of foster care and adoption, the loss and grief that your child might be experiencing is a big thing for you to help hold with them.
There are all of these possibilities, but within that, we can hold compassion that we can hold both. It is like, “Maybe I didn’t get what I needed. I know my parents did the best that they could with the tools, skills, and experiences they had at the time that they were raised in.” It doesn’t excuse things. It doesn’t diminish your experience. It lets us hold this complexity and move through in a way where we don’t have to blame the parents or feel shame about our experience of how we were parented or whatever the thing is. That’s the tension that we tend to run from. I want to encourage us to embrace it and find our way through it because that’s where relationships get better.
That really resonates. I’m glad you said that. I certainly don’t mean to speak critically about my parents. It is an acknowledgement, the and there. My parents did so many great things. I’m so grateful for them. We have a wonderful relationship. I can acknowledge that there’s a lot of opportunity for growth, and there probably always will be.
That led me to another question in my head. I don’t even know how to find the words because as soon as the words came up, I was like, “This sounds really obvious. There’s no perfect parent. There’s no ideal way. There’s no right way.” I want to know what you think about this. Is there a wrong way to parent? If there’s no right way or perfect way to parent, does that mean that there’s no wrong way to parent or be a teacher even since we’re incorporating all the different influences on a child’s life? That’s aside from abuse and assaults, certainly. That’s a different story.There aren't wrong ways to parent, but there are harmful ways to parent. Click To Tweet
I appreciate that caveat because certainly, there are wrong things to do to a child. I don’t know why this feels like such a challenging question. I agree with you that there’s no one right way to parent. I have a hard time with influencers or people out there who say, “Say this one thing and your child will magically do X, Y, and Z.” It doesn’t work like that for every child, every relationship, and every culture. There’s no universal way. We all bring our personalities, our strengths, and our weaknesses into parenting or teaching.
I don’t want to say there’s a wrong way to parent, but I would say there are harmful ways to parent. Sometimes, we use the, “Kids are resilient,” fallback and that puts a lot on our kids. That said, the pendulum can swing the other way. We don’t teach the kids the skills they need to feel, deal, and solve problems. I saw that in my counseling practice. I hear that from other therapists and other employers who are finding the young adult population not always having the same, “Go get it. Figure it out,” drive that employees years ago right out of high school or college.
The pendulum can swing too far in either direction where we’re like, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Do as I say, not as I do.” The hard line, “I am the authority,” can swing all the way to, “I don’t want you to feel any discomfort,” or, “If you’re anxious about that, then don’t do it. Find your bliss.” Adulthood isn’t always bliss. We have to do our laundry. We have to go grocery shopping. We have to have jobs to pay bills. It’s not always going to be your very favorite thing. Not everybody gets to be a YouTube influencer.
We do kids a disservice if we swing all the way to not feeling and dealing. Those are two ways that we can do some harm in our parenting. If we do everything for our kids and never let them feel discomfort or if all they see is anger and rigidity and their feelings don’t have a place, that does some harm. Is it wrong? I don’t know. Maybe I don’t like that word.
I don’t like that word either. It’s an interesting thing. It gives us an opportunity to really reflect on it. We can see life through a very binary lens of this or that. We take sides or take stances and fall into that black-and-white thinking. That can lead to a lot of judgment, like, “I’m doing a better job than this person.” That self-righteousness can also lead to a feeling of shame, guilt, lack of worthiness, and not enoughness. It is feeling like, “That person’s doing such a better job than me.” I see both things coming up in the way people talk about themselves and others. It’s a combination, but it seems to mostly be that this or that versus the and. It seems to be harmful. I really appreciate your approach to the gray areas.
As you were speaking, another thing came up. I was driving through this area of Los Angeles that has a lot of really nice homes and seems like a very nice wealthy area. There are these boys walking down the street. It was probably 7:30. It was a group of boys walking down the street. I was observing them and the way they were walking.
It’s so interesting that as an adult, I can remember what it was like to be that age and then also feel like, “What are these boys up to? Why are they out at this time walking around the street?” It’s not like it was dangerous, but I was curious about them and felt a little bit of a trigger. I started thinking about what you mentioned about being an influencer and noticing how so many young kids are influenced by social media, whether it is simply modeling their behavior off of what they see on social media.
Part of my reaction to these boys was they weren’t even doing anything. It was something about them and what I was projecting onto them. They felt almost so grown up. I don’t know how old they were, but I would guess maybe thirteen. Yet, there’s something about them that felt like they were moving their bodies and dressing in a much more mature way. I feel like I’ve noticed that so much with social media’s influence.
A lot of people around my age will say things like, “When I was that age, I was so innocent. I was wearing these childish clothing. Now, preteens are dressing like they’re eighteen.” Is that social media that has influenced it, or does every adult think that kids are more mature than they should be? You’re a parent, so I’m sure you witness this with your own. You have three sons. Is that right?
I have three sons. My partner and I have joked, but he, in particular, has joked, my husband, about how he did not feel equipped to raise daughters. There are ways that we are fortunate that we have boys because he would’ve had some big feelings about navigating adolescence with girls. We got saved from that whole little whatever that would’ve been between him and his girls.
Part of the logical side of my brain wants to see the data because you’re right in a way. We see this in school a lot where everybody thinks that the behavior’s the worst it’s ever been, and then you’ll hear something from 50 years ago and they’re saying the same thing. They’re like, “Kids are out of control and this, that, and the other thing is happening.”
There is some negativity bias that we notice those things. I also feel like an old woman sometimes. I’m like, “Geez.” I’m clutching my pearls or something about how someone is dressing. I’m like, “Don’t people know that some people want the bottom half of their shirts?” You go to clothing stores and everything is crop tops. I’m like, “Can I have a whole shirt? No? That’s not an option anymore? Okay.” I’m old. I don’t know.
One of the impacts of the internet in general and social media, in particular, is the potential for exposure sometimes to good things but largely to the loud voices and the things that grab your downstairs brain’s attention. Those are the things that you feel like you’re missing out on. If you see a post about 2 friends going out and having a good time, maybe you feel happy for your 2 friends or maybe you feel a little bit left out that you weren’t part of the 2 friends going out and having a good time even if you weren’t available. There can be these layers of things, but our brains pay attention to the negative. They pay attention to the possibility of threat.
Being left out is an enormous threat to humans. We don’t survive if we are not part of the pack. You see that with gangs. There is a variety of ways that can be manipulated for harm. We see that sometimes in social media like TikTok challenges to do horrible things. These things where kids can get caught up in dangerous behavior or trying to be something that they think they’re supposed to be to be able to fit in has always been a thing for adolescents. That’s a time that we’re connecting with peers and figuring out our identity. We’re pulling away from our boss parents and shifting more into those other roles eventually with our parents.
I’m a little bit against the general norm here, but the American Academy of Pediatrics and others say, “Wait as long as you can.” My kids are not on social media. They’re 14, 12, and 9. We talk a lot about how I feel like I have to use social media for work because I am an author and a public figure and my publishers and the people who are hiring me to speak want to see some of my presence online. My kids know that’s why I am there.
Even though I feel like a person with really good self-control, good support in my life, and reasonably good self-esteem, I have to set time limits on my phone for social media usage because it is designed to suck you in. It is designed to manipulate your emotions. It is designed to make you want more, check for likes, and activate your brain in ways that make you come back again, looking for something.
Certainly for younger than teenagers, but even for the teenage brain, it does not have the capacity to navigate that in the way that we would want for our kids. It makes me sad. That’s the feeling I have. I know it is how so many kids connect, and I know it’s not the truest form of connection so I wrestle with that as a parent and as a human.
I feel the same way. One of the big motivations for me stepping away from social media is I want true connection. I would rather spend 2 hours recording with a guest like yourself and feel a sense of connection in-depth than talk to 100 people in that 2-hour time period or see 100 different social media posts that don’t feel like the depth of connection that I want. Some people compare social media to smoking because we don’t really know the danger yet. It’s still new. It’s very common. What will it be like ten years from now? Will we look back and say, “It did a lot of damage. What did it do to the young brains?”
Something else in my research around social media that aligns with the focus of your work, especially in your books, is anger. It’s been proven through research that social media algorithms favor anger, divisiveness, extremes, and anything that will agitate us because that gets us hooked. That taps into our desire to engage. We want to fight, defend, and stand up for things we believe in. It brings out all of these deep emotions as well as old behaviors. Probably even the survival mechanism is tied into that. A lot of us are being trained to be angry because our anger ends up getting more attention. I’m curious about your work and research. Tell me more about anger with kids and why that’s the subject of so much of your work.
That’s a great question and a good thing to pull out because anger is a protective emotion. Anger comes in to say, “There’s something up here. There’s something wrong.” The difficult part is it’s not very good at distinguishing what’s wrong, like what the actual problem is. That’s how the 24-hour news cycle and social media can manipulate that and use it to agitate and drive behavior. It’s the clicking, tuning in, or not missing out kind of behavior.
Anger is also a really primal emotion that can protect us from other maybe more vulnerable feelings. Anger often comes out when we feel left out, when we feel like our beliefs are being challenged, or when we are stressed. Maybe something happens that makes us feel like we’re not doing a good enough job or that we’re being misunderstood. All of those things can fuel anger, but often, there’s grief, disappointment, fear, or loneliness. We’re maybe driven to connect through anger when the real need is some human connection with some joy or with a shared passion as opposed to being against something. It’s easy to jump into being against something, but being for something can be so much more empowering even if it feels harder at first.We're driven to connect through anger when the real need is to connect through joy. Click To Tweet
I lost the thread a little bit of your original question, but part of why I end up talking about anger a lot is because it’s so primal and prevalent, it can be so divisive, and it is often misunderstood. Our anger doesn’t always mean what we think it means. That’s especially true for kids, but it’s still true for us as adults as well. For kids, they don’t have a lot of ways to tell us how they feel. There’s a quote that I’ve seen around. I forget who the quote is from. It is something along the lines of, “Kids don’t say, ‘I had a hard day. Can I talk about it?’” They say, “Will you play with me?”
Sometimes, but most often, what I see is kids don’t say, “I had a hard day. Can we talk about it?” They throw a tantrum, hit their brother, or sass you. They act out in some way that’s saying, “I’m struggling.” If we get into managing the anger, we’re not addressing what’s underneath or what’s going on that every day when you get home, you are coming in like a raging tiger. Can that trigger concern us as parents, afterschool providers, teachers, school counselors, or whatever? Can we rewire ourselves so that when we see anger, we activate our compassion and check in with what is driving this primal response?Can we rewire ourselves so that when we see anger we check in with compassion? Click To Tweet
Almost every single time, especially when we’re talking about kids and teenagers, it’s something that if you really knew what was going on, you would have compassion. It’s hard for us to always get to what’s going on. Even the kids that struggle because they don’t have the skills yet, almost always, they’re not trying to give you a hard time. They’re having a hard time. No one woke up wanting to ruin your day. It doesn’t feel like it. It feels like they’re out to get you, but that’s not the case.
This feels so important on so many levels. This is not just about kids. We can see this in so many of our interactions as adults with each other or with other adults. Even in moments when I’m meeting a child or around a child that I have no connection to and is a stranger, I still find myself trying to be more curious versus judgmental.
Most of us can relate to the feeling of a crying child on an airplane. It’s really triggering for a lot of people. Unless you’ve been there yourself, I imagine it is easier to have compassion. For someone like me who’s never had kids, when there’s a screaming child, it’s easy to start to judge the parents. It is a primal reaction. When someone is upset around us, it might upset us, too. Maybe we get triggered or frustrated. Having that compassion and empathy and trying to check ourselves “Why am I so triggered by this? Do I want to put the blame on someone else or can I do some work within myself to figure out how to react to it so that I don’t make it worse for myself or them?”
I like that you brought up the crying child. A lot of times when I’m presenting, as I talk about the brain, I talk about Dan Siegel and Tina Bryson. In their book, The Whole Brain Child, they introduce this upstairs-downstairs brain concept that you’ll hear me talk about. When I talk about the downstairs brain, which is the home of primal survival, like all the things that keep us alive as well as those big feelings, I will show a picture of a newborn baby crying. Even if you’re not watching the video, Whitney smiled when I said, “A newborn baby crying.”
Babies in distress can trigger our compassion in a different way often than a 2-year-old, a 5-year-old, or a 35-year-old who’s throwing a fit. From a brain perspective, it’s a very similar phenomenon that’s happening where that downstairs brain has taken over and it doesn’t know if its needs are going to get met. When I think about the crying child on the plane, I agree with you. It’s so easy to jump to wanting to blame the parent, especially if they’re not doing things the way that you think they should do things. When we hear distress, oftentimes, we want to shut it down. As opposed to coming alongside and trying to help, we want to control.
That same thing comes through in a lot of anger management or even in parenting situations where we want to control a kid’s behavior instead of partnering with them to figure out how they’re going to problem-solve through getting ready in the morning. It is like, “I’ve noticed we’re running five minutes late every single morning. What do you think we can do? How can this go better? Let’s think about it together.”
Do not do that when you’re already five minutes late. Don’t have that conversation when you’re already fuming in the car trying to get where you need to go. Have it when you’ve got your upstairs brain back in charge. Maybe it’s after school or whatever. Make a game plan. Write things down together. Draw pictures. Test out new ideas, like, “What would happen if we woke up this way? Do we need to get to bed fifteen minutes earlier?”
Often, when something goes wrong, we jump to power and control because that’s what our downstairs brain wants. It wants power and control of the situation instead of, “How do we figure this out?” That’s complicated. Figuring things out together is complicated, slow, cumbersome, and uncomfortable. It’s easy to want to jump to that seemingly easy solution, but we’re short-changing our kids in the process. We are inviting power struggles. There are all these things.
That said, there are times that the answer is, “I understand that you don’t understand, but this is how it needs to go. We’re doing it this way.” That’s part of why I had a little bit of a hard time with whether there is a wrong way to parent. There are instances across different cultures, family situations, community interactions, moments, and personalities where lots of different techniques, skills, and ways of being are needed.
That feels like such an important thing to acknowledge because context is everything. One of the contexts I know that you explore a lot is trauma. I’m curious. Are you spending more time exploring the trauma that children are experiencing? Is it mostly adults? Is it a mix of the two? How do you address trauma in your work?
I feel like trauma is something that either people are super curious about or that sends you running for the hills. They’re like, “Enough already. I don’t want any part of it.” I try to address trauma in a very safe, conversational, and approachable way for both adults and kids. My background is largely in the child welfare space. I feel like I learned pretty quickly that if we’re not focusing on the adults around the child, we’re not helping the child. That became clear very quickly. My focus was still, “How do I get the adult to do what this child needs?” as opposed to, “How do I help this adult feel safe, seen, and valued so that they can show up in ways that this child needs?”If we're not focusing on the adults around the child, we're not helping the child. Click To Tweet
I don’t think that shift has happened perfectly. Certainly, there are still times that I jump into protect-the-kid mode. That shift has been important in my work because telling people they’re doing something wrong is a quick way to send them into their defense brain. As I’m doing professional development with schools, I’m not coming in there to say, “You’re doing something wrong.”
I’m coming in there to say, “You’re acting exactly how your brain is wired to act when it’s faced with what it perceives as a threat. This kid’s misbehavior is a threat to you. Knowing that, what are we going to do? The only way this kid’s behavior is going to change is if we can see it from a brain-based perspective and understand that there’s either, as Ross Green would say, a lagging skill or an unmet need. There is something driving this behavior. It’s not that they want to destroy your classroom. They did not wake up trying to make your life terrible even though your brain is reacting as though that were the case.”
Both things are normal. This kid, for whatever reason, has adapted to have a very strong defense system. His tiger comes out really quickly or her chameleon is good at masking. When you experience someone else’s defense mode, you naturally respond often in defense mode, except for that crying newborn baby. That’s almost the only exclusion, but in general, it’s easy for self-protective behavior or downstairs brain behavior to trigger a downstairs brain reaction.
I feel like a lot of my work, whether it’s trauma-related or not, is helping people understand, “This is normal. You’re responding this way. This big thing is happening, and that is impacting your nervous system.” That’s not the end of the story. You can be the boss of your brain. If you are the adult in the room, that kid’s survival is dependent on you being the boss of your brain. That’s the only way they learn to be the boss of their brain. They need some connection to well-connected brains. That’s how the human brain grows.You can be the boss of your brain. Click To Tweet
I really like the way that you said that. It’s interesting. I feel like we spend so much time talking about emotions but not really understanding some of the things that our brains are naturally wired to do or some of the ways our brains may become dysregulated. Inadvertently, we wire the neural pathways. That’s a relatively new discovery in brain science. It wasn’t that long ago that researchers discovered that we can rewire our brain pathways.
We’re still learning this, right?
Very much so.
It is really fascinating, and it can be very empowering. Maybe we’re still transitioning to recognize that we can change. There is still the mentality that people never change and that they will always be the same. I’m at the belief system that people can change if they’re aware, if they are putting in the effort around it, or if they know what to do.
The same can be true with children. As adults, it’s important for us to recognize the effective way that children can change or acknowledge the behavior and how it developed or why it’s there. What you’re doing is so helpful. It seems like the books that you’ve written and are writing, which you’re putting out so much work on, are mostly designed for children and parents to learn together through the books. Is that right?
Yes. That’s certainly the case with the Riley the Brave series. I put them together in a way that a child and their safe, big critter, whoever that might be, if it’s grandma, auntie, a foster parent, a biological parent, adoptive parent, or a counselor, the kid is able to put themselves in the story, which activates our brain in a different way than learning something. There’s a lot of guidance for both adults and children throughout the series without it being preachy. I can’t stand books that sound like adults talking when it’s supposed to be for a kid.
Your Magic Backpack series was designed especially with the school setting in mind to help school counselors, teachers, and other educators who are supporting kids in learning more about their emotions and learning how to unpack the heavy stuff. It is so that they can be available to learn as well as develop those skills for life because we need them.
My newest work has come out as this episode is airing. Your Amazing Brain: The Epic Illustrated Guide is for ages seven and up. I’ve talked to a lot of counselors and therapists who’ve read the book and are like, “Why didn’t I learn this in graduate school?” I’m like, “I know. It irritates me, too. That’s why I write these books.” It’s certainly super kid-friendly, engaging, and interesting. It brings brain science to life and has some little lessons for the adults woven in in strategic ways.
What I have poured thousands of hours into is my latest release, Light Up the Learning Brain, which is specifically for educators. What I was finding is in my private practice work, I would do all this work with families and then we’d get in a much better space with how the kid was functioning, the adults around that kid understanding how they function, and the kid having some language around it.
They’d have to go and explain it to the 2nd grade teacher then this 3rd grade teacher, and then the 4th grade teacher. That’s a big burden for a family that’s already struggling. I really saw that gap in translating the neuroscience that is hot off the press into what this means in my classroom. What does it mean about something as simple as what my eyebrows look like when I’m trying to talk to a kid about a difficult situation? If I’m coming in with my eyebrows up to my hairline, that kid is not hearing a word I’m saying. All they’re doing is detecting a threat. That’s all that’s happening. They’re not problem-solving. We’re not getting to better behavior because they’re staying in their downstairs brain.
Light Up the Learning Brain has been a long time coming. It pulls together seven keys for not just managing behavior, but unlocking that potential in students in ways that we weren’t taught in college. We weren’t taught about it in school partly because the science wasn’t there and partly because the science hadn’t been translated. These systems are slow to shift.
I’m so grateful that you’re doing this work because it feels so important. It’s still developing hot off the press. People are either yearning for this information or they don’t know what they don’t know. You’re giving them tools that can really change lives in such profound, if not the most profound, ways. Whether it’s a caregiver, the home environment, and/or the school environment with the educators, this is what shapes us as human beings. Some of these things can have a traumatic impact. They can feel traumatic for us. They can lead to trauma. Maybe our trauma isn’t even acknowledged because people don’t know how to address it with us.
It feels incredibly healing that you are putting this out there for people to learn. Also, looking at the designs of your book covers, especially the Riley the Brave Series and Your Magic Backpack, brought me joy seeing it. It feels interesting. I’m curious about it. Knowing how to draw someone in so that they will start this process is so powerful.
I’ve done a lot to figure out, “What do I do? What is my job now?” I ended up leaving private practice because there weren’t enough hours in a day. My roles are I’m an author, a speaker, and an instigator of hope. You said we don’t know what we don’t know. That was me. I was a baby counselor or social worker in the South Bronx. I was fresh out of grad school and ready to help not knowing how to and not knowing what I needed to know to be helpful.
I feel like with every book that ships out somewhere in the world, there’s this little part of my heart that goes along with it to say, “May this bring some hope, some peace, and some connection that you would feel a little safer, a little more seen, and a little more valued.” That’s the magic. We need each other desperately. Unfortunately, our downstairs brains get very loud and protective. It keeps us apart from each other at exactly those moments when we need each other the most.
That’s why the bright colors, the diverse characters, and the gentle and inviting way that I write are really intentional to make sure it can reach that upstairs brain. Whatever protective parts of that kid, that family, that parent, or that teacher is there, it is protective for a reason. We can still learn a new way. We can still grow, heal, and connect in ways that maybe didn’t seem possible before.
I’ve certainly felt so much of that magic and the intention. I felt hope. I felt it the moment I learned about the work that you’re doing and even more so after spending this time with you. Your desire to create more peace and connection, I know you’re achieving it. I can feel it. I feel it because of how you present and how these books are presented. It’s such important work. I’m incredibly grateful for you being here.
I would love to see you speak in person. I know how powerful it can be to put together a great talk. Being in a room full of people hearing that together sounds wonderful. Eventually, the video will be on YouTube. Thanks again, Jessica, and thank you to the reader for being here with us and joining me on this magical and intentional journey.
Thanks for having me, Whitney, and thanks to you for spending this time with us.
- Jessica Sinarski
- Leave No Child Behind: Nurturing Emotional Intelligence in Children with Dr. Tracee Perryman – Past Episode
- The Whole Brain Child
- Your Amazing Brain: The Epic Illustrated Guide
- Light Up the Learning Brain
- YouTube – This Might Get Uncomfortable Podcast
- Riley the Brave
- Your Magic Backpack series
About Jessica Sinarski
Jessica Sinarski, LPCMH (licensed professional counselor of mental health) is a highly sought-after therapist, speaker, and change-maker. Weaving user-friendly brain science into everything she does, Jessica ignites both passion and know-how in audiences. Extensive post-graduate training and 15+ years as a clinician and educator led her to create the resource and training platform BraveBrains. She partners with school districts and child welfare agencies around the world to unlock resilience in children and adults alike.
Jessica makes social emotional learning (SEL) practical, equipping parents and professionals with deeply trauma-informed tools. She is the author of the award-winning Riley the Brave series, Your Magic Backpack series, and the forthcoming Light Up the Learning Brain (Sept. 2023). She also shares her expertise as a contributor to magazines, blogs, and podcasts. Jessica lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and three busy boys.
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