Susan Epstein in her Groton office.
Susan Epstein in her Groton office.

Are your children running your house? Do your teenagers slam doors and roll their eyes at you? Are your younger children already masters of back talk? Maybe you're worried about more serious behaviors, such as alcohol or drug abuse. Or perhaps your family is going through a transition, like divorce or remarriage, and your children are acting out in a way you haven't experienced before.

In the past, conventional wisdom dictated counseling for the children and/or the family as a whole. But Susan Epstein thinks she's found a better, more effective way to help parents lovingly regain control.

After nearly 25 years of practicing traditional family counseling, Epstein, a clinical social worker and the author of two parenting books, launched the program Parenting Powers and became a certified "parent coach." Parents, Epstein says, just need a little help with their kids by tapping into their own strengths, creativity and resources.

Here's a recent Q&A with Epstein

on parenting.

Q: So, what's wrong with "kids these days?"

A: Great question…it really isn't about the kids, it's what we have done to them through the "democratic" home - too many choices, over indulgence, over-scheduled, too much pressure, not enough guidance, supervision, etc. What we got was: disrespectful, entitled, overly anxious kids. (But not all kids and not all parents. But enough that I have plenty of work and a mailing list of over 3000!)

Q: What are some typical mistakes parents make?

A: The two big ones are punishing their child when they could be correcting and teaching and reacting emotionally to their child's behavior and losing their cool. Another biggie is not raising kids with responsibilities, accountability and financial expertise.

Q: What is the most common problem you encounter with families and how do you address it?

A: Two of the most common questions I am asked are, "How do I get my kid to stop challenging me?" and "How do I get my kid to be respectful?"

First, I remind parents that lecturing, nagging, yelling and threatening do not work. I teach them how to quickly calm themselves and then speak to their children clearly, in short sentences. "Please don't speak to me that way, it is disrespectful." I have them repeat this sentence calmly and unemotionally until the behavior stops. Once we get that accomplished, we move on to setting up systems to keep the house running smoothly - chores, allowance, meals, family meetings, and so on.

Q: What other types of issues do you work on?

A: Children with difficult behaviors (for example, lack of respect, anger, back-talk, interrupting, tantrums), children who are acting out and/or not doing well in school, divorce, remarriage, blending families, trauma or loss, teen alcohol and/or drug use, improving family communication, work/family balance, support.

Q: What should parents know?

A: It's not your fault! Our generation was duped. We were told to build kids' self esteem. We went overboard and didn't understand the effects of giving too much. Now it's time to straighten it out.

Q: What is your approach/style to parent coaching?

A: I take a creative, non-judgmental approach to each family's needs and then build good rapport with each family member. The first session is a free consultation where together the parent(s) and I create a powerful vision for the type of relationship they really want with their children, so that they can move the relationship in that direction immediately. Next, I develop a three-stage plan to light a fire under their relationship with their children (and the children's relationship with their parents). And finally, I help uncover hidden challenges and unknown factors that could be sabotaging their relationship and undermining their power to influence their children's behavior. (I determine) if local sessions can be done in the family's home and/or in my home office. I also conduct weekly parent telephone and email sessions, parent group telephone sessions and I offer parent-coaching products, such as books, DVDs and audio CDs.

Q: How did you develop this approach/style of parent coaching?

A: During my career as a clinical social worker I have watched family life change drastically. Life for most families is more chaotic and stressed. I pulled together 30 years of clinical experience and research, and blended that with a coaching framework. By offering phone coaching, parents do not have to travel to my office, get a sitter, and so on. It saves time and sanity! Also, since I normally don't include the kids in the sessions (even though we are working, for the most part, on their behavior issues), it makes more sense to have sessions by phone. I am also able to reach a wider geographical area. I have worked with parents all over the world. Also, traditional therapy is one session per week. My clients have access to me 24/7 and lots of email support. I call it the "bat phone." Parents like to know that having that connection to me is part of the package. In fact, parents who email me often do better than those who don't, so I encourage lots of contact in between calls.

Q: How is what you do different from traditional counseling of children and teens?


I don't diagnose the child. No labeling. I see the family as a system that needs some reorganizing and some hands-on strategies and techniques. Years ago I worked with kids individually and it just isn't as efficient and the effects are not significant enough and long-lasting as working with the parents. Parents are creative and resourceful and can make the changes to have successful, kind and loving children if they get the right advice.

Susan Epstein




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