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Empowering Parents and Children to Strengthen Their Connection

Welcome to the fourth week of our Maternal Mental Health series. This week I wanted to bring you the perspective of professionals in the community that help mothers that are struggling with their mental health. In this blog, we speak to Dr Gauri Seth. Dr Gauri is the founder of Brain-Based Connection®, and in the blog, we talk about the work she does with parents to help them strengthen their relationships with their children.


Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

Tell me more about yourself, your background, and how you’ve come to do this work?


My name is Gauri Seth, I am British-born, and my parents are from North India. I studied Medicine in Bristol and have a Bioethics degree in medical law, ethics and philosophy. Along with my clinical work, I did a lot of research. As an integrated academic trainee, I completed my Psychiatry training at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience. I recently sat my final postgraduate exam and am now a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.


I’ve now stepped out of my clinical training temporarily. Due to the pandemic and childcare responsibilities with three young children, I decided it was time to step out for a short while. I then discovered the world of coaching and started a coaching practice, developing my work as a connection coach.

What is a Connection Coach?


I should start by talking about my experience working 1-to-1. I have worked in psychiatry and psychotherapy, which is different from being a coach. Coaching focuses on empowering a client to develop strategies from within, therefore requiring an element of baseline resilience. For this reason, my coaching work is not designed to replace therapy or psychiatry support, and in fact, I work with those who are clinically unwell only once they are stable and able to work with me in a solution focussed way to move towards their goals.


Coaching provides a confidential, safe space for individuals to talk. As individuals, clients think about goals; coaches are like ‘mirrors’ for the client, and show the client where they are now in relation to their goals. It is a very proactive method that does not focus on the past (like psychotherapy usually does).


I am interested in assisting people in connecting with themselves, so they can connect with others by giving them tools they have to keep in their metaphorical toolbox. While coaching has various specialist areas of focus, to my knowledge, ‘Connection Coaching’ for parents is a novel space within coaching.


Photo by Tanaphong Toochinda on Unsplash

What are the most important “tools” mothers (and the family unit!) should have in the metaphorical toolbox you speak of in the postnatal period?


Parenting can be a very self-sacrificing period of life. Parents (mothers and family) need to remember their self-care, try not to strive for perfection, and master the art of flexibility.


What do I mean by the art of flexibility? Essentially, many parents want a routine, which can be helpful. At the same time, children are unpredictable (even those with a routine!), and if parents can be flexible when necessary, that can help them deal with the unexpected. Switching perspectives is essential, looking at the world from the child’s perspective.


A big tool is also to remember that these are transient stages of life -parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done! — but these difficult phases do pass (for example, behaviour issues, and sleeping deprivation). Be patient and communicate openly with the family unit.


The power of a tribe (bringing up children with connected caregivers) and accepting/asking for help is so important. Asking for help might be meeting with other parents with children the same age, or the extended family.


To sum up, some of the most important tools would be:

  • Be kind to yourself, and make sure you practice self-care

  • Try to master the art of flexibility

  • Understand that it’s okay not to be perfect

  • Understand your child’s perspective

  • Communicate as a family

  • Accept help, and know that it’s okay to ask for help

  • Remember that this is a transient phase of life.


What are some of the biggest challenges concerning the mother-child connection when working with mums postpartum?


Many themes re-occur.


Parents’ state of mind is so important to connect with anybody. Often parents feel guilty; it is very easy to judge themselves or their child — which in turn gets in the way of connection with themselves and the child.


I often see parents wanting to be perfect. Sometimes, people who strive for perfection and may in fact be very successful professionally, face specific challenges when they enter the world of parenting — and the drive for perfectionism can get in the way of being consciously connected.


Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

How could your work complement the work of someone being followed by an NHS psychiatrist or any other mental health service?


As long as it’s very clear that the care that I will provide is not clinical and they are supported in the clinical space by a qualified clinical professional, connection coaching can provide people with holistic support that helps with maintenance work after the clinical work is done.


Coaching can be used when someone is well but would like longer-term support for future planning and goals and even prevent relapse into old patterns that do not support their health. The focus is on the quality of interpersonal relationships, which improves the parent-child relationship and impacts the well-being of parents and children.


Have you seen changes in the parent-child relationship during the COVID-19 pandemic?


The negatives have been stressed in the media enough; I would like to give you a positive perspective.


There were some positives of the pandemic on the parent-child relationship. As the pandemic forced families to re-calibrate relationships, some people now have a residual connection forged during the pandemic.


There is more of a tribe and more quality time spent in the nuclear and sometimes extended family, which has many long-term benefits for the well-being of individuals and families.


Do you have any “success stories” from people you’ve worked with in the past that you can share with us?


There was a family I worked with the parents; their child was going through the CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) pathway (possible attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD, diagnosis). They got the diagnosis while they were under my coaching. I was working with the parents to help them remain connected with the child; they felt they were being pushed away.

With the related parenting techniques, I helped them identify a less judgmental perspective on the relationship and optimise communication with the child. When they worked on that connection, it positively impacted the child’s behaviours and the whole family dynamic. I explained some of the science to them and helped them understand emotional regulation. They also realised the way they were parented as children (transgenerational parenting) and how that influenced how they were parenting their children.


In a different case, with a toddler, the parents struggled with tantrums and entitled behaviour — this impacted the parents’ state of mind and was exhausting. They were concerned they were raising a child that would not be compassionate and wouldn’t be able to relate to others.


I explained brain development to them, and introduced the concept of neuroplasticity and stages of child development (the world is about them at that stage of development). Parents can be non-judgmental and assist with developing empathy and compassion through things like storytelling, which they apply to their children. The parents were judging themselves, but by helping them recognise how these behaviours of the child are developmentally normal and that we’re not perfect parents, they improved the relationship.


Photo by Everton Vila on Unsplash

Closing remarks


The work that Dr Gauri does on a daily basis is powerful and so important. She highlighted the most important tools parents should have in the perinatal period, which can go a long way when focusing on deepening the connection as a family unit. While the pandemic has resulted in changes in familial relationships, Dr Gauri highlighted a positive change, i.e., it allowed families to re-calibrate their relationships and spend more valuable time with one another.


Her success stories with families she worked with portrayed how meaningful fostering connection is and showed us real success stories of parent-child connection coaching.

 

DISCLAIMER: Any information or advice Dr Gauri gives is purely based on her own experience. Comments made are as a coach, this is not medical or psychiatry advice. There is no guarantee as there are many variables that will impact outcomes. Everything stated should be taken as an opinion.

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