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PEP Blog

05|31

Why We Should All Just Take a Breath: Thoughts on Sigh, See, Start

By Jackie Beach, M.Ed.

In her new book Sigh, See, Start, How to Be the Parent Your Child Needs in a World That Won’t Stop Pushing–A Science-Based Method in Three Simple Steps, Dr. Alison Escalante offers straightforward operating instructions for today’s parents. She takes the reader through the history of cultural beliefs around raising children, dives into the collective sense of parental overwhelm so many of us are feeling right now and presents a very approachable method for tackling some of the most challenging aspects of parenting. The book contains helpful tips on how we can regulate our own nervous systems, gather information about our children’s needs and begin to collaboratively solve problems with our children by simply remembering these three steps: sigh, see, start. While refreshingly simple and easy to remember, the author’s method is based in science. Dr. Alison Escalante is a board-certified pediatrician and former clinical instructor at Northwestern and Rush Universities.

“Dr. Escalante aptly labels the current stressful experience so many parents are encountering as ‘The ShouldStorm.’ She describes it as a ‘high pressure culture of criticism and anxiety that pushes perfectionist parenting.’”

Pressure to be the Perfect Parent and the “ShouldStorm”

The book’s subtitle instantly piqued my curiosity: “How to be the parent your child needs in a world that won’t stop pushing.” As a former school director and current educational consultant, I have had countless moms and dads come to me over the years completely exasperated and convinced that they were doing a terrible job as a parent. Yet they were very often dealing with age-appropriate behaviors or a frustrating stage in their child’s development.

Humans are not an exact science, and every child develops differently. While challenging times as a parent can be remarkably uncomfortable – not to mention exhausting – the larger problem was and continues to be how parents are holding both themselves and their children to unrealistic expectations.

Raising a human being is hard enough. In today’s world, however, everywhere we look there is a new parenting podcast, social media influencer or revolutionary technique telling us how we “should” be doing it better. We are living in a state of total information overload. It’s no wonder parents are more exhausted and insecure than ever. Dr. Escalante aptly labels the current stressful experience so many parents are encountering as “The ShouldStorm.” She describes it as a “high pressure culture of criticism and anxiety that pushes perfectionist parenting.”

Sigh, See, Start as a Tool

What is refreshing about Sigh, See, Start is that it is a multipurpose parenting tool broken down into accessible steps. “Sigh” serves as a guide to better self-regulation and mindset. “See” provides a platform to better understand our child and their strengths. “Start” generates solutions without using shame or punishment. Dr. Escalante’s work also serves as a filter system for potential parenting advice and strategies we may come across and want to use in the future. The book features an entire section devoted to expanding our toolkit and deciding if certain approaches or trends in parenting are actually right for our family. The book aims to help us understand more about ourselves but also encourages us to observe our children, so we better understand what works for them as individuals. While there is no one right way to parent, creating relationships built on trust, safety and respect can certainly set all family members up for success.

“While there is no one right way to parent, creating relationships built on trust, safety and respect can certainly set all family members up for success. “

Chatting with Dr. Escalante

JB: Can you tell me more about the concept of “ShouldStorm”?

AE: “ShouldStorm” is a word for both what parenting can feel like and a description of culture. I studied ideological and cultural history as an undergrad at Princeton. Culture is a powerful thing. We maintain it. We repeat it. We internalize it especially as women. In our culture, we are often surrounded by ideas of what we should do as parents; we look for the “shoulds” as guidance and believe we could mess up our children if we do not follow them. That pressure can steal the joy in the actual parenting of our children. It makes us doubt ourselves.

JB: How can “Sigh, See, Start” increase our confidence as parents?

AE: When I first named what I was seeing and labeled it as a “ShouldStorm,” I would share it with parents, and they would feel relief just by having someone describe what they were going through. Even with that relief, they would fall into old habits. I figured out that it was not enough just to provide insight into what they were going through; parents also needed actionable items. “Sigh, See, Start” helps parents when they start thinking about all of the shoulds and their stress begins to increase. As a parent myself, when I was in the moment with my children I often could not remember the complicated steps in other parenting strategies. The steps in the “Sigh, See, Start” method are very easy to remember and implement in ways that work for your specific family.

JB: In your book you talk about the concepts of overparenting and the stress around trying to be a perfect parent. How can we stop ourselves from falling into these types of patterns?

AE: As parents, we can discipline ourselves to see our child’s strengths. We need to stop thinking it is on us to fix our child. Instead, we can work to notice their strengths so we can then support and validate those strengths. When parents desire to be perfect, it often leads to intense pressure for a child. For example, when parents set the expectation of keeping their emotions regulated at all times, kids can feel the inauthenticity of that, and it causes cognitive dissonance.

I like to remind myself that I need to be making space for my kids to thrive instead of my own perfection.

JB: How can you apply “Sigh, See, Start” at any stage in your parenting journey?

AE: It is a plan that helps you constantly connect with yourself, and you are also inviting your child to use their skills as well. This builds your relationship with your child and supports natural transitions from stage to stage. We learn to enjoy our children and the skills they are using during different periods of development.

This article appears in the June 2024 issue of Washington Parent magazine.

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