One of the strongest universal truths is that parenting is tough, and with life’s ever-increasing pace it is only getting tougher. For over 20 years, Hand in Hand Parenting (handinhandparenting.org) has recognized this and dedicated itself to giving parents the practical tools and support they need to deliver love and guidance to their children to create warm relationships that will last a lifetime. Tanshi2a (tanshi2a.com), a community based Emirati social enterprise, now partners with Hand in Hand to bring its Parenting by Connection seminar to the UAE. Viki Shah talks to Tanshi2a’s founder Anisa Al Sharif and certified international Hand in Hand trainer Zsuzsanna Egry to know more…
What does Tanshi2a mean?
Tanshi2a, which means “nurture” in Arabic, is an Emirati led social enterprise that aims to raise awareness of conscious, child-centric parenting practices in the Arab world based on effective communication, positive relations and respect for the child’s identity. Services include individual family consultation and coaching, Arabic language support groups, parenting book clubs, and training. Learn more at tanshi2a.com.
What is Hand in Hand Parenting?
Hand in Hand Parenting has been one of the leading global authorities on positive parenting for over 20 years. The non-profit group provides parents with insights, skills, and support they need to listen to and connect with their children in a way that allows them to thrive. This is done through easy-to-access support, classes, and literature. For more information, please visit handinhandparenting.org.
Why has positive parenting become such an important tool these days?
AAS: I think parenting is even more stressful now, because of the pressures we face in competitive cultures and the expectations in modern societies. More than ever before, parents need a different type of advice; they want to connect with their kids on a deeper level and express their love without being judged. Years of misinformed research, especially in the behavioral sciences, left parents with tools that keep failing them. Parents are trapped in a vicious circle of rewards and/or punishments. Peaceful parenting provides parents – but also all humans – with ways to empathize and improve our connections to others. Eventually, this will lead to a more peaceful world for all of us!
ZE: Although the news generally suggests otherwise, today more people enjoy peace than ever. So now finally we can not only focus on survival, but start changing and healing old practices that are hurtful. There is a great movement everywhere in the world to build a just and peaceful world, and raising children in a way that does not create hurt is really the groundwork for this. “Hurt people hurt people” is a very true observation, and much of the hurt we receive is early on in our lives and stays with us. Most parents have never been taught how to help children heal and what tools to use to avoid emotional pain, and so the cycle continues. When parents learn how to build and nurture a deep connection with their children and how to listen to them well so that they can develop good judgement, these kids will be much less prone to engage in violence or hurtful behavior. They will also be able to think well about solving the challenges of the world.
What are the main schools of parenting thought? Why and how do they differ?
AAS: There are many scientific and academic classifications when it comes to schools of thought about parenting, but they can all be summed up under two paradigms. The first one – unfortunately it’s still mainstream to a large extent – is based on behavioral science. The assumption is that like animals’ brains, human brains respond only to rewards and punishment. This approach focuses on behavioral management. When a child behaves well, she is rewarded; when she behaves poorly, she is punished. The punishment can be anything from spanking to a timeout or shaming, and the rewards can consist of gifts, stickers, praise or what is called ‘positive reinforcement’. The second paradigm is informed by the new research in neuroscience and by what we now know about how our brains work. Our emotions play a role in our behaviors and decisions. This is a two-way communication, and it focuses less on the behaviors and more on the motivations and triggers underlying the behaviors. This approach looks at the human as a whole. It recognizes that we are emotional creatures and suggests much more complex and effective tools and methods, rather than the simplistic approach of reward and punishment. The second paradigm also takes the parents’ and the child’s emotions into consideration when navigating a stressful situation. This paradigm includes parenting approaches like Conscious Parenting, Peaceful Parenting, and Hand in Hand’s Parenting by Connection. While all these approaches share the same basic assumption and respect for emotions, the tactics differ. I find the Parenting by Connection approach very practical, and it has the potential to change the relationship between the parent and child on a deeper level. However, the 5 tools of Parenting by Connection are not quick fixes. As with all schools of parenting under this new paradigm, you really need to be invested as a parent. Think of this as a journey rather than a destination.
What are the fundamentals of effective parenting in your opinion?
AAS: Effective parenting involves understanding the basics of how the emotions work. That is key to being able to form a strong, respectful parent-child relationship based on trust and unconditional love. As a parent, it’s also really important to understand and work on your own triggers and stressors. As the saying goes, ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’. You need a non-judgmental community that can provide the necessary emotional support.
ZE: 1. Get support for yourself as a parent! Unless we can release our stress, we cannot react well to our children’s stress, or worse, we project our stress onto them.
2. Build “connection-time” into your daily routine, as you build meal-times and sleeping-time into it. Connection is a basic human need, just like food and sleep, so we better plan for filling this need. Feeling connected is vital for our brain’s capacity to work well, and it literally builds the neural pathways in our brains.
3. Make room for all emotions! For yourself, and for your kids! In most parts of the world, we are afraid of so called “negative emotions” and their expressions, such as crying or tantrums. The neurological truth is that these are healthy ways to release stress from our systems. When we let them flow and just listen in a safe environment, the negative emotions and the off-track and hurtful behaviours that are a result of feeling bad evaporate. And we do not have to do much for this “happy ending” at all, apart from giving it all a green light and listening. This is true for us adults as well. If you feel overwhelmed by parenting struggles, try to share your true, uncensored feelings with someone you trust who does not judge you or want to save you, but is able to just listen. You will be surprised to find new energy, love, and maybe even new enthusiasm for parenting simply by sharing your thoughts with another person.
How did you both embark on the journey of promoting and teaching about positive parenting?
AAS: For years, I worked in the social policy arena. It became very clear to me that the most important investment any nation can make is an investment in its children. I believe all the issues that we try to resolve later on in our lives could be fixed more easily if we had been parented differently. On a personal level, after I had my daughter (she’s 5 now) I thought that I knew enough to raise her well. My intuition would not allow me to settle for conventional parenting advice, so I embarked on a journey to find an approach that was a better fit for my values. When I found Parenting by Connection and discovered how well it works, I felt that I had to share this knowledge, especially with members of my community. I believe this approach has the potential to change our lives and our future as human beings.
ZE: Many people, me included, find Hand in Hand Parenting in desperation. When my son was about 10 months old, he woke up 8-10 times a night, he could not play longer than 5 min with anything, he would not laugh, and generally, he was always overactive. It was a nightmare to get him to sleep, and I was exhausted, also because I was a single mother at the time. When I found this approach, suddenly I understood why my son was the way he was, and why – despite my best efforts – what I have done before did not work. But more than just understanding, I got very practical tools that I could try out immediately. And it all worked! He soon started sleeping better, laughed more and connected more. Then I fell in love with Hand in Hand and felt like the whole world needs to know this! It makes life so much easier, and what is most important for me, it allows me to deliver my deep love for my children right where I want it to go, to their hearts. My parents unquestionably loved and love me deeply, and I am very grateful for them, but as a child, their love did not get to me, and life was hard that way. I am happy that I could change this with my children.
How does parenting in the Arab world differ from the rest of the world? Or does it?
AAS: I thought it differed, but after studying and working with parents from around the world, I am now convinced that the human experience is universal. The details can change from one culture to another because of the ways we organize our lives. For example, in the UAE we live in extended family set ups that are not common in other parts of the world. This can add a layer of complexity to the family dynamics. However, feelings, triggers and emotions play the same role across all cultures.
The Arab world rests on the culture of motherhood so do parenting techniques from the west baffle Arabs? If so, how do they cope with the differences?
AAS: Not at all. The need to connect deeper and to express love better are still basic needs. Peaceful parenting techniques – such as the listening tools of Hand in Hand’s Parenting by Connection approach – deal with basic needs like the need to be heard and the need to connect. So, I think this approach is a good fit for any culture!
ABOUT ANISA AL SHARIF, TANSHI2A’S FOUNDER
A Conscious Parenting Educator and Social Entrepreneur, Anisa Al Sharif is also a trained CTI Co-Active Coach and a Social Policy Expert. She is passionate about family issues, child development and education. Ms. Al Sharif is the founder of Tanshi2a (which means ‘’nurture’’ in Arabic) a home grown social enterprise that promotes Conscious Parenting approaches and Child- Led Learning practices. Through this platform she leads parenting support groups and other community-based initiatives. As a UAE national, Ms. Al Sharif worked for Dubai Government as a Social Development Policy Advisor for 13 years. She worked on key strategies – including the Dubai Strategic Plan 2015 – and led the development of public policies in the areas of education, human capital development, parenting, Third Sector and PWD inclusion in her role as head of the Socio-Economic Development Department at Dubai’s Executive Council. She currently works as an independent advisor on public social policy. An experienced speaker, Ms. Al Sharif has participated in high-level government events and conferences. She has also served on panels at prestigious academic institutions, including NYU AD and the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government. She holds a Master’s degree in International Social Policy from Bath University in the UK, and a Bachelors degree in Economics from UAE University.
ABOUT ZSUZSANNA EGRY, HAND IN HAND PARENTING CERTIFIED INSTRUCTOR
Ms. Egry is a certified Hand instructor, living in Hungary. She graduated with an MA in English and has travelled, volunteered and lived in many places before becoming a mother of three children between the ages of 6 and 12. Her own challenging and difficult experiences that she has encountered since the birth of her children led her to find the Parenting by Connection approach, which she now gladly shares with others in Hungary and Europe, so that they too can transform their family experience from struggle and survival to alot more fun, deep satisfaction, and the cauldron of love and connection that it is ought to be. This will be Ms. Egry’s first workshop outside of Europe, and she is excited to share the Parenting by Connection approach with UAE families.