Parents: Take time out for yourself...

Parent coach and teenage mentor Eileen Keane- Haly, of Cork, talks to LINDA KENNY about empowering children and parents, and her new book, The Parent
Parents: Take time out for yourself...

 Parent coach and teenage mentor Eileen Keane, who has written a new book The Parent.

DRAWN from 10 years of experience working with teenagers, The Parent is an understated little book which packs a big punch.

Written in a simple, accessible, and personal style, and designed so that it can be picked up and put down as needed, it is brim-full of little gems of wisdom and take-home suggestions for easier, more confident parenting.

“The essence of the book is to support and empower parents and to help stem their guilt trips and self-doubt, and to allay their fears,” explains author Eileen Keane-Haly, who lives in Clogheen in Cork.

“We do not place enough emphasis on what a phenomenally important role being a parent is,” she adds.

“We are leading the next generation into everything. We should not undermine that role!”

Eileen, of Jumpstart Your Confidence, is a parent coach, a teenage mentor, Laya Corporate Parent Speaker, and a regular contributor to print and broadcasting media discussions around children’s mental well-being.

The Parent by  Eileen Keane.
The Parent by  Eileen Keane.

She recently launched her new book The Parent. The first chapter is all about self-care for the parents.

“Parents don’t take time out for themselves,” insists Eileen.

Juggling the onerous and time-consuming multiple roles of parent, partner, child, sibling, psychologist, counsellor, etc, can cause parental burn out. The intensity of this delicate balancing act is unsustainable,

“It’s like a hamster on a wheel,” she adds, “There is no one actually benefitting from that.”

Some parents are really slow to ask for help or accept it. Others will express despair at not being able to emotionally reach their kids and having to accept the concept of them talking to someone like Eileen.

“I assure them it is perfectly normal teenage behaviour for teens not to share. That age group thrives on privacy. So, when you are not emotionally connected to them, often that can be the trigger for them to open up.”

Reassuring parents that they are good enough and are doing the best they can is one of Eileen’s primary reasons for writing the book.

“I had initially worked with adults but found a lot of the issues they were dealing with were unaddressed from childhood. I realised there was a potential intervention that could happen at a child or teenage level that might help alleviate or prevent some of those issues spilling over into adulthood and continue on to their parenting. That’s why I set up Jumpstart Your Confidence,” she says.

Eileen also passionately believes it is never too late to change a parent’s relationship with their child.

“I encourage parents to never give up on that relationship because it is the most important one,” she insists.

“There are so many ways to turn a child around at a young age, without too much difficulty, to get that self-belief back into them again,” she continues. “but the intervention needs to happen both with the parents and the kids.”

To Eileen, children are phenomenal.

“They’re resilient, clever, and smart and just a little bit of self-belief can change their lives,” she says.

“Listening to your kids is essential and trusting them, until they give you a reason not to trust them,” adds Keane-Haly who devotes an entire chapter of The Parent to this subject. Accepting our kids for who they are is fundamental.

“I have four daughters who are all so different,” she says. “If I put them all in the same box, a few will be miserable. If we can’t accept them for who they are, how can we ever expect them to learn to accept themselves?”

Suspend your fears about phones, says Eileen.
Suspend your fears about phones, says Eileen.

Eileen also encourages parents to suspend their fears about phones.

“The phone is their child’s world,” she continues. 

“Give it to them but be sure to establish the boundaries from day one. You can’t not give it to them. Otherwise, you are excluding them from their peers yourself.”

In the past year, many of these boundaries will understandably have been eradicated by the need to stay connected with friends. Mental wellbeing is paramount.

“Without exception, I think we have failed a whole generation of kids, by not educating them on how to live in a world with a phone,” admits Eileen. While much attention is given to bullying online, from her experience, she believes bullying accounts for just a tiny percentage of the issues churned up by over-exposure to phones.

“Self-esteem, body image, and confidence are being annihilated and communication skills and social interaction are being lost,” outlines Eileen.

“I see a lot of teens who are simply not happy.”

The pandemic has massively intensified scenarios for them. The lack of social connection was acute. Some kids thrived in the more relaxed, safe, family environs. Others were both delighted and relieved not to have to face their peers in school.

But now, Eileen is seeing a big increase in parents struggling with getting their kids back to school.

“For some, it was really tough going back. I have worked with kids who have, literally, not left their bedroom for months!

“For others, who may not have the best relationship at home, or relied heavily on their friends, they really struggled being at home.”

Children are missing social connection, says Eileen. Picture: Stock
Children are missing social connection, says Eileen. Picture: Stock

Over Covid-19, one of the biggest issues she has seen is kids being excluded from their friends’ groups.

“It is the most horrendous cruelty. Social media has magnified such challenges,” she says.

“I try to put the responsibility back on kids to keep an eye on their mental well-being for themselves” says Keane-Haly.

“You can’t live ‘in’ the phones and presume to function happily in the real world too. Social connection is the costly price to be paid.”

Navigating the choppy waters of technology and children, however, can be very challenging and frustrating for parents. They feel quite helpless to intervene when communication with their tech-high children becomes a little fraught.

When they do occasionally risk withdrawing the phone (or, possibly more accurately, wrench it from their child’s gasping grasp!), the joy of re-connection is worth the intervention.

“Children don’t realise how much they crave that social interaction with us,” says Eileen. 

“Removing their choice, by taking the phone away from them in order to reconnect, may lead to fights and arguments initially. It is an addiction after all.

“However, if we give them our focus and energy, a few hours of that connection are worth weeks of our normal interaction with them.

“I’m not a psychologist or a teacher and, as I’m also not under a counselling umbrella, my role as mentor allows me the freedom to work a little differently. My approach is more practical, relationship-based.”

Eileen’s secondary school talks are usually to transition year students, aged between 15 and 17. She passionately believes that when you talk to young adults and connect with them, they do listen.

“The kids have to trust you, so you have to speak in a language they understand,” she adds.

“They are craving information. I can talk about anything with them - from porn, sex, to drink and drugs - and we get a multitude of conversations going,” she continues. “I insist ‘No names on forms’, so they aren’t afraid to participate. They massively open up because first and foremost, they know I relate to them, and they also know they won’t be facing me for maths in the next hour!!” 

Growing up, Eileen attests there were no conversations about how you were feeling. ‘Emotional intelligence’, the buzz-words of today, were Non-existent. Wellness programmes are now being rolled out in schools.

“As school is the only place where we can reach all kids, time needs to be set aside to teach kids realistic life skills,” she asserts.

“There are still no realistic support systems within the school set-up to help children positively live in a world with constant digital access”, she adds.

In her opinion, primary schools are doing really well promoting mindfulness and well-being, but that secondary schools do need to catch up.

“I have the greatest admiration for teachers,” insists Eileen. “It’s not the schools’ fault. Their curriculums are jam-packed.” 

“However, the mental health situation with students and waiting lists is out of control. If a child needs help, they need it now, not in 16 months- time!

“I’m surprised that the Department of Health and the Department of Education have not come together to formulate a proposal that’s real”, she adds.

In an ideal world, Eileen would love to establish a group of like-minded professionals, mentors, who would roll out a support programme, incorporating mindfulness and happiness, in schools all over the country.

“The mind is such a powerful place,” she concludes. 

“Surely it is common sense to teach our younger generation how this works, how they can control negative thoughts, how they can always retrain the mind into a healthier place.” With her book, The Parent, Eileen aims to also reinforce that message of confidence, positivity and self-belief with the parents at home.

To book a consultation with Eileen, 086-8112110; 021-4323610 or eileenkeanehaly@gmail.com. The Parent (€14.99) is available to purchase on Instagram @jumpstartyourconfidencecork or www.jumpstartyourconfidence.com

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