Supporting our Teens with Navigating Transitions and Friendships, with Hilary Diouf

Casey: Welcome to the Parenting Teens with Positive Discipline audio summit, I am your host, Casey O'Roarty, certified positive discipline trainer, coach and founder of Joyful Courage. This audio summit is designed to dig into the principles of holding the foundation of positive discipline while navigating the very real and messy experience of being a guide for our teenagers.

Special thank you to Jane Nelson and Lynn Lott, authors of Positive Discipline for Teenagers and the Positive Discipline Association whose mission it is to create a peaceful world by teaching Adlerian social and emotional life skills for respectful relationships. All the guests you will hear on this audio summit have extensive knowledge in positive discipline and have or are currently raising teenagers themselves. Thank you for listening and be sure to join us in the Joyful Courage Parents of Teens Facebook group for more discussion about this particular interview.  

My guest today is Hilary Diouf. She is a mother of a teenager and a pre-teen, as a social care worker she has 20 years of experience working with young people and families experiencing difficult situations. She has worked in Ireland, Switzerland and now lives in Canada where she brings her sensitivity of cultural differences to her work with caregivers.

Hillary believes that mistakes are wonderful opportunities for learning and she has had a learning-rich parenting journey herself, you and me both. She uses the knowledge and skills gained through her work with children with behavioral challenges, differently abled people and refugee families and in schools to help caregivers feel capable and confident in finding solutions to challenges they may face. Hi, Hilary, thank you so much for being a part of this parenting summit.

Hilary: Hi Casey and thank you for inviting me. I love the work that you're doing and you know, spreading the tools for a more peaceful world and have for sure, I'm in the messy business of of parenting teens myself so-

Casey: Oh yeah, yeah, well, can you talk a little bit about your experience with parenting in the teen years with positive discipline.

Hilary: Sure, well, Casey, it all started right back when my son was newborn. I think after 3 days I was an exhausted parent despite the fact that I had been qualified as a child care worker and from then I was really looking for skills and tools to help me keep connected through the years and a lot of the skills and tools I came across were very helpful at the time but they seemed to expire as the kids got older they seemed to not be relevant anymore, the kids outgrew them and when it came to positive discipline, I just knew, you know, these were skills that I could keep going back to and tools I could keep using for life and not just with my kids up at the early ages but especially during the the challenging teen years and you know, I also use them in my relationship with my husband, my sisters and friends so, yeah, I'm really glad to have found positive discipline when I did. It's never too late.

Casey: No, it's not and it's funny, I think I mentioned this already in another interview, but you know, we call positive discipline a parenting approach but really, it's a humaning approach, right, it's about human relationships and I really appreciate that about it because why would we want to treat our children any different than we would treat any adults in our lives, right? Like that dignity and respect that exists and positive discipline I think is just so powerful.

Hilary: That's absolutely right, it's the mutual respect.

Casey: Yeah, so we're going to talk about navigating big transitions with our teens, specifically around peers and social groups, we might meander here a little bit here and there in our conversation. You have had some firsthand experience of big transitions, will you share a little bit about that?

Hilary: I sure have, Casey, so not something that we were expecting to do, but as my eldest turned into teen, 13 and we decided to off and move continents from Switzerland across the Atlantic into Canada. So that was a year and a half ago now. So we basically changed schools, neighborhoods, language, culture, the whole works. Yeah, challenging time but we survived it and I think we're better for it.

Casey: I love that we get to talk about this because I am in, our family is considering a move and I have a 13 year old who is not at all happy about it. And so it's really interesting. My 15 year old is like ready to go today, my son not so much and it's been an interesting experience to notice how I, the feelings that are coming up for me. You know, on one hand I feel really strongly about the possibility of a new community. We're not moving continents or even States but it's a significant move and it's coupled with, like, "Oh gosh, what if it's, what if it's the wrong thing to do for him?" and "What if, you know, what if he can't make any friends and what if this is the time of his life that years from now he speaks into like, 'Well, this is when everything started getting really terrible was that move'." Right and so it's been fascinating and I'm just wondering, in your experience, how was that for you as the parent knowing that one, yes, kids are resilient and they're going to be fine and but then living through and I don't know how your kids responded to the move, but living with them, just saying, "I don't want to move, this is so stupid" and really the panic, like the underlying panic that you can feel that energy from your kids.

Hilary: I can so relate to that, Casey. Really, when you mentioned there that, you know, when the kids look back and wonder is this the point in their lives when, you know, their world got turned upside down and I felt, you know, I felt a lot of that. I felt a lot of pressure to make the right choice.

And I kind of forgot that, you know, I'm allowed to make mistakes but I'm also responsible for making the best choices that I can make with the information that I have and that I will always put the interest of my family, you know, first and foremost and sometimes it's hard, you know, you probably know as as well as your listeners know, there's a great phrase in positive discipline that mistakes are marvelous opportunities for learning and I live by that but here I was, making a choice, this is not a mistake that I was about to make but actually a choice that will impact my kids and will, you know, cause them some stress and disturbance and things like that.

So I was very caught up in guilt and fear about how this was going to impact on the kids and part of that I was transmitting to the kids, you know, my own concerns and worries about how I was going to impact them was actually impacting how they were seeing this transition and so I really had to be gentle with myself and say, "Look, if I feel that this is the best thing long term for the family then this is in our best interest and we, you know, we can step into that in the confidence that some things will go well, sometimes we will make mistakes but I'm doing the best I can right now with what I have."

And I know our move was a move of continents, a family move but you know, I also work with a lot of people who are are making the choice that for their families best interest a separation is what is best and that's challenging because again, you're making the choice and you're wondering about the impact on you kids and on the other flipside of that is other families are choosing to blend together with new families and new siblings and a new parent and so these are all choices and you know, I think it's so much easier to make mistakes and learn from them than to actually make choices and allow yourself that room to be doing the best that you can and to acknowledge that you won't always get it right but you will certainly be doing your best at the time.

Casey: Yes and when I can lift up and out of my fear and my guilt and look at, I like to say, like, look at it from a 10,000 foot view, look at the bigger picture, I see, you know, I am, I mean, my little guy, he has a magnetic personality. I mean, I know that he'll do just fine, right and I really start to see that this is really short term discomfort for him.

Hilary: Yes, yes, yes.

Casey: And how it's fascinating, when you think about that and how often I think, because it's like, I mean, I can even feel it in my body right now, just talking about it, just like a little butterfly in my tummy and just that tension in my shoulders and my chest, just like, "ugh" right because we don't want them to be uncomfortable. And it's normal not to want them to be uncomfortable and we know in our heads that discomfort is absolutely the birthplace of resiliency and thinking back to my own experience of changing schools every single go was a new awesome group of friends and I know that everybody's going to be just fine. It's just really fascinating to be, you know, in it versus looking at it.  And I think one of the things that you'll have to share what you, how you supported your kids but you know, it's it's interesting when he gets frustrated and talks about how stupid this idea is, you know, my instinct is to be like, "Let me tell you all the reasons why it would be a better community for us, right, like let me convince you" and that was going nowhere and so what I've started to do is say, "I bet that it feels really crazy to think about a whole new group of friends and you really love your school, it's a brand new building" (which doesn't help our cause) but, you know, just kind of validating that what he's feeling is really normal, that's been helpful for him. What were some of the things you did with your kids?

Casey: Well, it's funny that you mention that, Casey. I did start off with the convincing, you know, giving all of the reasons why I believe that it was going to be a great move for all of us and all of the wonderful things that were going to be available to us there that weren't available to us where we were living and at the end of my very long list and I was so proud of myself that I had written everything and you know, and investigated it, my son just had one simple answer. He said, "But my best friend won't be there" and my heart sank for him and I just, you know, I didn't have an answer for that other than "I know. I'm there with you. I hear you and it's true. You are going to be experiencing some losses."

And you know, sitting with that sadness and listening to those feelings and as hard as it was for me, because as I said, I was dealing with a kind of guilt in my own brain that I was bringing this on, so I needed to know I was doing the best I could so that I could really sit there and listen to him and not take on his struggle but support him in his struggle with the losses that were going to be there and as parents, I think we often feel like we want to protect our kids, you know, we we don't want them to feel the discomfort that you said, results in resiliency but, you know, when our kids are small and they're learning to walk and they're getting bumps and bruises and we say, you know, "It's a part of life. It's a natural part of life and change, that's one thing that we're guaranteed in life." I've had a few moments in my life when I've had the opportunity to change or to stay the same. And I've always, you know, when you think about it, I can't not change.

You can't keep things the same, even if you do stay in the same town, in the same school who's to stop other kids from moving on and moving out or your best friend, neighbors from, you know, buying a new house somewhere new. Change is something that we need to accompany our children in doing, rather than trying to hold back from, so especially in today's world, Casey, where the rate of change just seems to be getting faster and faster and you know, more people are moving further for studies which is something our teens are going to be facing in a few years' time, even if they do stay, you know, in the same elementary schools, middle schools and high schools as their friends. They needs to face change sooner rather than later and having faith, as you said, that they can cope with change and that they will, even if they haven't experienced a big change before, that this is their opportunity to grow those muscles of resilience and adaptability that are so necessary in today's world.

Casey: And a theme that's come up in some of the interviews that I've done for the summit is, you know, specific around the teen years is the individuation process and how, you know, as kids move into adolescence they, you know, they pull away from the family unit and they really move towards peers but also what's happening is they are trying things on, discovering who they are and inside of that, even sometimes it isn't even a big move, sometimes it's simply, you know, a peer group, you know, going from middle school, down here it's middle school to high school and friendships can evolve, peer groups can change. I've definitely seen this with my daughter.

And sometimes they're the instigators of that change, right, sometimes they're the ones that, you know, kind of either outgrow or, you know, find different priorities then the group of kids maybe that had been their core group and and things shift, right, and then, when we look through the lens of belonging and significance which is, you know, the basis of positive discipline and Adlerian theory, how do you feel like, what's been your experience around how that, and not so much the change like, these were my friends and now these are my friends, but that time in the middle, right, what do you say about belonging and significance when it comes to that time in the middle where maybe moving away from one group, not really sure moving towards what group but that kind of place of "Ahh!" For a better word.

Hilary: Exactly. And what's kind of funny, in our own experience, I did move with the kids when they were 3 and one before and because, you know, with family that was their center of their universe it didn't, you know, there was some impact on them. We changed language at that point so, yeah, it was a little bit of a struggle but they looked to us as their parents to be their, you know, their rock. We were their world. But this time, clearly, when you're moving, you know, a teen or teen is moving and changing schools or countries or whatever and they're more looking to their friends, their world is outside the home as well as inside the home and for us, there was a kind of pause in that process where we did get to be the four of us again, we did get to feel that sense of belonging and connection because we were going through this transition together and so it pulled in for a little short while. You know, we were each other's world. We did need to come to each other, that's where things like family meetings and rituals and traditions and really knowing where you belong and internally your own.

I love Jason Mraz's song, 93 Million Miles where he says, you know, your home is inside of you, so actually coming back, you know, at the cusp of these teenage years to actually frittering out, you know, my home is inside of me and my own resilience and my own adaptability and my relationship and my connection with my, you know, my immediate family is a strength on which we can draw and then, you know, as you said, Casey, the individuation process, moving schools or, you know, moving towns or whatever, it's like jumping from a small pond into a big pond.

Like, there is a lot of amazing opportunities to connect with new interests or to develop interests that you didn't have before, to be meeting new people that you choose to be with rather than you've just kind of fallen into each other's paths and so you've created a group and you're actually, you know, openly choosing, you know, what style you like, what music you like, you know, the hobbies and pastimes you like, so for us that was a great opportunity to actually say, you know, "I'm not a child anymore, I am a teen and you know, I have choices and I'm going to be looking to, you know, find places where I connect with other people who like the same things" so it actually, you know, and it helped not to be going blindly into the teen years with the same ole, same ole but actually to say "I have choices around where I want to be and who I want to be with, what I like to do."

Casey: I love that you, I love the part of your story around your family, you know, because you were going through this big transition together, you know, kind of pulled in and strengthened that family unit and it reminded me of a metaphor from the book Untangled and, if anyone is a listener of the podcast who's listening, they've heard me talk about this book Lisa Demoore wrote it and it's a book about teenage girls and one of the metaphors that she uses that I just love is she talks about the swimming pool and that the parents are the structure, we are the pool and the water represents the worlds and our girls but, I would say our teens, right, for this purpose, you know they want to be out in the world swimming around and then they want to come and hold on to the side and take a breather and connect and then, when they're ready to go back out in the world, sometimes it's a little bit of a kick off, so, yeah they can feel like "Ugh."

Hilary: We get splashed.

Casey: Yeah, we get splashed a little bit but I, you know, I just and lately a phrase that's been coming up for me as well in these years you know, my daughter is almost 16 and you know, that the time is, I'm finally feeling like, wow, time is limited here and I'm so grateful for everything that she has navigated thus far because she has had the soft landing that is her family and I just think that regardless of what the current challenge that, when I think about people that are listening and I let you know too that there have been some requests around "Please talk about, you know, navigating relationships with peers and changing friendships" and you know, when we think about our own experience, there are so many places for our kids, you know, to come back to that soft landing and to know, especially in the context of belonging and significance, and I think you highlighted this with your story, when they feel that solid place at home, it's only going to serve them as they're out in the hallways of high school or whatever, you know, out in the world and you know, either navigating a friend turning away from them or them choosing into a different relationship. And, you know, there is no, we can't fix that for them. We just get to support them and love them and I think listening is a big piece here with our kids. It's so hard to watch them hurt. It's so hard when they can't make sense of what's happening with their peers and gosh, we are just full of advice and zip it!

Hilary: Yeah.

Casey: You know, it's really the opportunity to listen. They don't want to hear "Oh, when I was your age or you're going to have so many friends or this is such a small time of your life", all of which, full transparency, I have said out loud to my child. It's not useful.

Hilary: Yes, it isn't useful. You know it kind of reminds me of when I when I feel or worry or concern, I usually tend to, as we know in positive discipline, it's, you know, firm and kind at the same time but when you, you know, when you spark up my fear I'm going to go one way or the other, I'm going to struggle to get the two together. So sometimes we can want to go the firm side of things and want to try and control things so that the outcome is assured. We don't want our kids to be falling in with the wrong friends. We don't want them to be having no friends. We want the exact right number of friends and the exact right friends for them and we can feel like, you know, if we have some element of control in it then the outcome is likely to be better.

Well, the one that this big move has taught me is that I don't have any control because, whereas before I would have known families in the neighborhood and have had background on the kids that were coming to the home and you know, when you know kids from from small you tend to get to know their family and things like that whereas here, I'm out of the picture so the only thing that I can do is get behind my kid.

The only thing I can do is make sure that we're having the conversations about how we feel with those friends, how those friends make us feel, you know, encouraging them to bring the friend over so that, you know, they can create quality time or facilitating that relationship by giving them, you know, rides or or whatever and. you know, there is a level of of trust that has to come from your child's judgment, because I have no idea who these people are.

So the communication and the connection and the openness, you know, with positive discipline the thing that attracted me to it was it's what your child does when you're not around that's what we're working towards. So when we can, you know, connect with our kids, when we can listen to what they're doing and as you said, Casey, you know, not tell them what they should be doing or I'm a really good one for that, actually, you know.

Casey: I knew I liked you.

Hilary:  I have it all sorted out in 5 minutes-

Casey: I mean, yeah.

Hilary: and I'll  tell you what you could have or should have done.

Casey: It's really a gift, don't you think?

Hilary: Oh Gosh, I could have saved myself some heartache if I only listened to my own advice. You know, backing up and trusting that we, you know, we've given our kids the strength to believe in themselves, the strength to question things, I've listened to lots of your talks before and you know, you often come around to saying, well, acknowledging when we've made mistakes and repairing those mistakes and then our kids feel in a better position to come to us and say "Hey, I made a mistake or I misjudged or I'm not comfortable with it and I'm figuring my way out from that" so having that level of openness with our kids in the hopes that they feel that they can be open with us so we can really get behind them and their choices and trust that they can learn from their mistakes because they've gotten this far.

Casey: Yeah, yeah, I really appreciate that trust piece too because, you know, I'm thinking specifically of a couple moms that I have worked with that are part of the community and I and, you know, and back to that it's difficult to be witness when our teens are navigating, you know, either the loss of a friendship or the loss of a peer group or, you know, for whatever reason it's that kind of "on the outs" place and I think that the energy that we bring and kind of going back to what you said at the very beginning around the energy that you brought around the move, I think, even when we're sitting and listening to our teenagers or you know and by listening, I mean listening to what they're saying or simply listening with our bodies to their bodies, like sometimes listening is just a presence.

Because, you know, if we're being fully transparent and honest, our kids aren't necessarily always saying "Oh, let me share exactly what's happening with you right now." Because it's for whatever reasons, you know, even, I mean, I have great relationships with my kids and they don't always want to spill the beans so sometimes it's being with them and being present and I think when we come with that energy of "I fully believe that you're going to be OK," not the words, so everybody that's listening, not saying it out loud, but really believing that, I think there is, there are some unspoken messaging that happens for our kids and that's really big because I think the other the flip side of that is "Oh gosh. What's going on with your friends? Are you OK?" and there's this sense of panic coming from the parent which only fuels and engages that like, "Oh gosh, am I going to be OK? Am I going to live through this?" for our kids so the energy that we bring this matter so much as well.

Hilary: Totally, Casey and to add to that I would say, you know, kids see what we do and not what we say. So when you say you are OK, when, you know, when we are going through a transition at the same time as our kids, as in the case of, you know, a move or a separation, working on that I'm OK part, like I, being, you know, disclosing that your own sadness or your own apprehension or what you're going to miss, the stages of grief, you know, acknowledging those for ourselves and for others and then, you know, making sure that we are OK because often if the whole family is transitioning at the same time, we put all our focus onto the kids and that they're going to be OK and sometimes the parents are clearly not OK.

And the kids are going to look to us to model well, you know, how are you dealing with this? What strategies are you putting in place to reestablish yourself, to settle yourself, to, you know, to help yourself over this transition so I can't emphasize enough, because I made the error that I got fully focused on how my kids were going to transition, that second place was how I was going to transition and I forgot totally that I am the model.

I am the way that they can see how people are transitioning and you know, the strategies that they put into place, so looking after ourselves and being open about our own processes or in the past, if our kid is transitioning and we're not, like, where we experienced that before and how what helped us through it, you know, if they're open to us sharing that with then that's wonderful but even if they're not, just acknowledging some of the ways that we behaved or we responded when we were faced with a transition can help us to realize that the way of responding to it, there are multiple ways so that maybe this behavior or a completely different, what would seem unattached behavior is linked in its core to this transition or the struggle they're having or the, you know, the difficult time that they're having and to be and to recognize that and you know, give a little grace for for those periods but when I mean grace, something that was surprising to me recently, Jane Nelson was saying that in belonging and significance which are the two human needs, that significance is really important, knowing that you have something to contribute and you know, being asked to contribute that is really important for our sense of wellbeing.

So when our kids are going through the struggling, painful times, I have a tendency to lean back into kind. And my version of kind sometimes looks like doing things for my kids that they're capable of doing for themselves and the message that they're getting there from me subconsciously is "I don't think you can handle all of this. I don't think that you're capable of doing everything that you're able to hang on to your norm, the things you do every day and deal with this so I'm pitying you and I'm going to go easy on you" whereas something builds their strength and as you mentioned, their resilience if you say, "No, I know you've got this" and I'm going to maintain the other things that you've already got so, whereas I would take on more tasks or be more lenient or let them more time, for sure I was empathetic, but I quickly learned that having them focus in on what they can already do, and what they are already capable of doing, in the case of a move it's like giving them more responsibility and giving them more tasks and you know, including them in the decision making or you know, discussing even just our strategies, like how as a family are we going to get through this, you know, and still be talking to each other.

Casey: Yeah, because I'm a crazy person in airport, I can't even imagine combining the move with a plane ride.

Hilary: Oh, you know, we thought we really had it worked out until we had like 48 clothes hangers in a suitcase and realized, you know, what are we doing? You know, the kids really learned that they were very, very capable and because they were part of the journey and processing the steps and that feeling of being capable can translate to well, you know, "I'm capable of joining you, I'm capable of integrating into a new school, you know, I have skills and abilities that maybe the soccer team or the swim team or whatever are going to appreciate me bringing." And it helps them to feel their own sense of self worth. It might feel counterintuitive because when the going gets tough, parents often get easier. I do. And I just need to remind myself that, "You know what, you got this, I believe in you, you are capable and even if it is just doing the dishes, it's like, you're still standing and you're still doing the dishes, even though things are tough, you're still, you've still got this, you know."

Casey: Yeah, so your kids are good, they've got their friends.

Hilary: Yes, well, it is a year and a half later, so I still think we're transitioning because my son has just moved from middle school to high school, so it's like "Oh boy, another transition" but you know, you've got this.

Casey: Yeah.

Hilary: You do have this, it takes time, it takes feeling those feelings and working through them. But you've got this in the long term and I have, you know, I have friends in so many countries and speak so many different languages because of the changes and the moves that I made. My life is so much richer for it that, you know, when I changed my attitude from one of "Oh my God, what am I doing to my kids?" to "Look, this is an opportunity and even if I wanted to, I can't pause the world, I can't stop changes from happening so I'm better off helping you to roll with them and build a strength and adaptability that are lifelong skills" and plus having, you know, in our case, several countries we can visit.

Casey: Right? You have places to stay.

Hilary: We have places to stay and people to meet and yet they're growing and learning new things in their new environment here and we're OK.

Casey: I love it, I love it. That's really useful. This is a, side note, I didn't realize how useful this conversation would be to me personally considering what we're coming up towards next summer, so thanks for that.

Hilary: You're so welcome.

Casey: And it's such a privilege to be in conversation with you, Hillary, I'm so glad you were a yes to the summit, thank you so much.

Hilary: Well, thank you for making time for me, I really hope that that you and whatever you decide to do for your family and all the listeners out there, whatever transitions or changes, the opportunities that come your way, you know, yes, you can do it and you will be richer for it, even if we make mistakes, you know, we can, we can roll with life. Life is good.

Casey: So if anyone's listening right now that would like to get in touch with you would you have a website or anything that people can check out to see more of what you're doing in the world?

Hilary: Well, I'm still transitioning myself, like I said. I focus more on the kids than myself but I'm working, there's a website called and I am working with families helping, particularly separated and blending families but also just any kind of parent, because even if we're transitioning from childhood to teenage years we're ready to go to roll with all of the changes so that's where you can find me for now, but yeah.

Casey: Beautiful.

Hilary: I'm in a bigger pond, looking forward to all that I will be exploring and experiencing here.

Casey: Yay, well, I will make sure that that is available to listeners and just thank so much.

Hilary: Thank you, Casey. Have a good one.