Jeanne Huybrechts of Stratford School

An interview with Stratford School’s Jeanne Huybrechts conducted with Pirie Jones Grossman for Authority Magazine

*NOTE: This is an excerpt from a recent article in Authority Magazine. You can view the complete article linked here.

About Jeanne Huybrechts: Jeanne currently serves as the Chief Academic Officer at Stratford School, where she leads a group of Education practitioners, each with expertise in multiple areas of school support — among them child development, curriculum and instructional design, educational technology, and accreditation. She started her education career as a middle and high school teacher, then moved on to develop curriculums, was a middle school and high school principal, served on the board of a charter school network, and completed a doctoral program (in Educational Leadership) at UCLA.

Pirie Jones Grossman interviewed Jeanne for a recent Authority Magazine story, where she shared her insight into some tangible ways parents can help ensure their children feel loved and connected.

Authority Magazine excerpt:
Based on your experience or research, can you explain to us why it is so important to forge a strong connection with our children?

It is important to forge strong bonds with our children because they are our future and our legacy. We want to support them through their early years of development to prepare them to be future leaders of the world.

What happens when children do not have that connection or only have a weak connection?

Creating strong relationships with children is key to their healthy mental health. Strong bonds are forged through listening, legitimizing their point of view — even when we disagree — and sometimes even shifting our mindset. When we communicate openly, honestly, and frequently with children about their needs and the challenges they may face along the way, it helps them feel safe and builds strong connections.

Do you think children in this generation are less likely to feel loved and connected? Why do you feel the way you do?

There is a recent phenomenon that is leaving children feeling “disconnected,” and that, I think, is due to the extreme “busyness” of their parents and caregivers. For reasons that are complicated, parents need to do more — often work more hours– and are more distracted (often by ubiquitous tech), leaving children deprioritized or, at the very least, left on their own. At the heart of “connectedness” is structure and attention, and those elements are sometimes lacking or under-emphasized in today’s “busy” world.

We live in a world with incessant demands for our time and attention. There is so much distraction and disconnection. Can you share with our readers 5 steps that parents can take to help their children feel loved and connected? Please include examples or stories for each, if you can.

  1. Listen to your children. Really listen — especially when it is your child who initiated the conversation. Extend conversations by saying, “tell me more,” or asking follow-up questions. Give your full attention to your conversations with your child by putting down your cell phone when conversing or during family-time activities.
  2. Don’t be afraid to “parent.” Children and adolescents of all ages need strong guidance and limits. There are times when it is appropriate to be your child’s friend, but, for the most part, they need you to be the authority. They will feel “loved and connected” by feeling “safe” in your care.
  3. As appropriate, bring your child into your world, remembering that you are “raising adults.” If possible, occasionally take them to your work and/or give them grown-up responsibilities that connect them to your world.
  4. Participate in their activities. Rather than watching your child play at the playground, join in the fun. Discover/cultivate fun activities that you can enjoy with your child. The goal should be to have a common hobby, something you enjoy doing together.
  5. Remember, a child’s path to adulthood is seldom linear. Children and adolescents will regularly advance, then regress, then advance again in their development. They seldom advance to developmental milestones on time or without detours or bumps in the road. During these cycles, they will necessarily want more autonomy or perhaps need more structure. Learning to “read” your child is an acquired skill, but it is definitely worth cultivating.

How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?

That’s a tough one — especially as few of us are “good parents” all the time. In my observation, the best parents of young children and teenagers are prioritizing their children without making parenting their singular obsession (which I have also seen). Good parents have their own fulfilling “adult” lives and also spend a lot of quality time with their children.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

I don’t know that there is a single formula for this, but I can share my own “dream big” story. I grew up in a time when society, in general, did not really encourage girls to “dream big.” But I was lucky that my mother worked (as a medical technician) and took me to her work several times each year, so that I could do more than imagine potential paths for myself: I would see them! I also was lucky to have had several teachers who recognized some capacity in me and pushed me a little to take a harder math class or sign up for something that was out of my comfort zone. I think I was not alone in needing tangible examples of “possibilities” and/or direct encouragement to move in a particular path. I have tried to incorporate such practices in my teaching and school leadership.

How would you define “success” when it comes to raising children?

Well, the true measure of “success” is the adult the child becomes. When I have asked groups of parents about their highest aspirations — their dreams — for their children, it is for them to become stable, self-sufficient, productive, and happy adults.

This is a huge topic in itself, but it would be worthwhile to touch upon it here. What are some ideal social media and digital habits that you think parents should teach to their children?

At Stratford Schools, Digital Citizenship is a crucial part of the curriculum. In this increasingly technology-based world, it is important to teach children the importance of extending their respect, kindness, patients, empathy, and tolerance through every social media and online interaction. Children must be taught the negative ramifications of cyberbullying and why it is crucial not to participate or even act as a bystander in cyberbullying situations. We must teach our children to immediately inform an adult whenever they see anything inappropriate or harmful on the internet.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

My current favorite parenting books are Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell, written in 2003, and How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, first published in 1980.

Both books really complement each other. The first book features more psychology (child psychology and understanding our own motives and ways of thinking), while the second is full of more practical wisdom.

To learn more about Stratford School’s Preschool – High School programs and campus locations throughout California, visit Stratford also features an ongoing Virtual Parent Speaker series with events throughout the year. Visit our events page to register for an upcoming virtual event.