Meet Dr. Christine D’Alessandro, featured HelloJoey expert and parent and relationship coach. In her practice, she works with children, adults, and couples to nurture the strengths families already have and move them out of ‘day-to-day survival’ mode into a place where they thrive. She also helps her clients navigate those murky emotional waters we all face from time to time, offering support, doing a lot of listening, and pointing out the positive things happening amidst the chaos.
Dr. D’Alessandro found her way to ParentLab after discovering that the HelloJoey app reflected many of the same values as her own work. “Empathy, compassion, and kindness are key components to the work I do in helping lift people up to a place in which they can find hope, strength, and courage to make positive, healthy changes in their lives.” She reached out to see if she could offer her expertise and services and has been contributing ever since.
To help you learn a little more about Dr. D’Alessandro, we checked in for a one-on-one to ask our most burning questions about family coaching. Her answers cover everything from how fear hurts our relationships with our kids to what we can do to bring our families together – and why she’s so excited that virtual reality mental health checkups could become an actual reality soon.
Is there one most common reason parents seek your help as a coach?
The most common reason is parents feel they don’t know how to handle difficult behaviors their child is displaying at home and/or at school. Other common reasons are conflict caused by different parenting styles; how to best support a child with anxiety/depression; and shifts in family dynamics, like blended families, life after divorce or death, and other life transitions.
Is there one surprising and universal issue that you’ve noticed in the majority of families?
It’s a common theme to have families seeking help when things have exploded and feel out of control. They’ve hit a brick wall and the problem has become a huge mountain. At times, the damage is so deep that the work that has to be done is more so than if these families would have come in sooner for help; the solution would have been easier and quicker. If you place more value and time on your mental health along the way in little doses, you’ll never have to reach the explosive out of control feelings in which everything feels unattainable.
What common parent behaviors aren’t beneficial to kids – and what can parents do instead?
Disagreeing on discipline styles in front of the kids. Even if you disagree, talk about it in private and find a common ground agreement that works for you and benefits the kids.
Yelling at the kids. We’ve all done our share of yelling, but both parent and child feel bad afterwards. To communicate with our kids, talk, listen, and take a time out in the heat of the moment, and then come back when everyone is calm.
Overpraising. Overpraise creates a false sense of what a child can accomplish and can curb their resilience level, decrease motivation, and trigger shame and low self-esteem. Instead,
Be specific, short, and sincere: “Great job! You scored a goal because you let your teammate know you were open.”
Praise the effort: “You’re working so hard,” rather than “You’re so smart.”
Use praise-free comments stating what you see: “You rode your scooter all by yourself.”
Use “you” (not “I”) statements: “You must be proud of how well you did on your test today,” rather than “I’m proud of how well you did on your test today.”
Parenting from a place of fear. Many parents misplace their own unresolved issues onto their children. They try to make up for what they didn’t have and make decisions based off their fears. That can be damaging and is where conflict eventually arises in parent-child dynamics.
What do you wish parents understood about kids that would make their relationships stronger?
I wish parents would see their kids for who they truly and authentically are versus who they want them to be. A child comes into this world with a clean slate. They are present, clear on what they want, intuitive, and they don’t need to be controlled.
Many parents tend to parent from a place of what was missing in their life or to raise their kids in the future tense rather than the present. They want their child to go to Harvard, so everything they do along the way – specific activities, extra tutoring, pressure on getting good grades – is to set their child up for that. The child is never seen for who they are; they are fulfilling their parents’ dreams.
Are there any habits that you recommend parents adopt that really impact family unity?
Quality and quantity of time are both important – and that the kids be part of the process and contribute their input. How that looks in every family is different. It could be electronic-free family dinner or breakfast, daily family reading or meditation, weekly game/bowling nights, yearly camping trips, volunteering, or doing things with other families.
Once family rules and rituals are established, it’s important parents keep it up and embed it in the family culture and dynamics. Consistency and follow-through are key ingredients to maintaining family unity and healthy family boundaries. Kids feel safe when family rules, expectations, and rituals are set, even if they resist them. When you set time aside for the family, you show how much you value your family and each child individually.
What are you most hoping will happen soon that will have the biggest impact on improving the lives of families?
Families have a hard time making time to come in for the help they need. I look forward to a future of virtual reality sessions, because then sessions could happen anywhere at anytime. It would allow for easy accessibility, affordability, and consistency in attendance.
I also look forward to a shift in how people view mental health, understanding that it’s just as important as their physical health. They should make time to get mental health checkups, and mental health checks should be part of annual physical checkups so everyone gets to access mental health services easily and efficiently as their standard care.