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What vs. How

July 20, 2021

Hey Friends,

Happy Summer – I feel like it’s in full swing with endless days of sunshine. I’m not complaining because this Midwest girl often misses endless days of sunshine between November and March in the Pacific Northwest.

I want to talk to you today about a pretty simple, but not easy, concept. “What vs. How” teaching & training. One of the best compliments I receive as a trainer or consultant is that I make concepts really tangible and actionable. Part of that comes from being in touch with authenticity and vulnerability – if you haven’t read those newsletters, check them out here. But the other part is trying to figure out how to make a theoretical concept, developmental model or intervention practical for someone who’s not a psychologist.

Let me give you an example completely out of my realm to illustrate this. I’m NOT a great gardener; but I love having a garden. I truly don’t want or need to know all of the aspects that go into master-level gardening – why? Because I’m not a farmer nor is the information particularly interesting to me, sorry green thumbs. HOWEVER….I love the result of great gardening. So, I just need to know HOW to grow yummy fruits and vegetables. The right light, the correct fertilizers, frequency of watering and BLAMMO…I have zucchini for days and tomatoes to can for the winter. And when my strawberries don’t produce or my snap peas aren’t developing right, do you know what I do?? I call a master gardener or I research expert opinions on “how” to fix it. I don’t research what when wrong, why ph balance is off, various varieties I could have planted, or the like – I just want to know how to address what’s in front of me.

What’s my point here? You do NOT have to know every developmental principle to be a great parent. You don’t have to understand every tiny way pathology can occur, the correct behavioral modification nor the neurobiology that underpins behavior and emotion. You just need to know “how” to parent well about 80% of the time. Ask me about the other 20% in the future…but I’ll reassure you now – if you’re good about 80% of the time, we can tackle the other 20%, easy-peasy.

So, could you study developmental theory for years to understand the “what.” Yep. Or, you could just practice the “how” and watch the magic. And by magic, I mean strong, healthy attachment, repairs after rupture and promoting resilient children and thriving families.

So, here’s an example of a concept I teach often. It’s a concept that some authors refer to as “delighting in” your child. Simply find one thing every day and point out what you LOVE or ADORE about what they do or who they are as a human. It need not be an accomplishment or chore. It’s simply an acknowledgement that they exist and that you can’t even believe they’re yours! Yes, I could go on and on about why this is incredibly important (attachment, attunement and resilience to name a few), or you could trust me, try it and see what happens. Here are a few ideas:

  • I missed your face today.
  • I love to hear you laugh.
  • You’re adorable.
  • You amaze me when you do that.
  • I see myself in your eyes.

Try this with your toddler. Your teenager. Your partner. Watch how they light up when they feel delighted in. Watch what happens when they feel seen and acknowledged simply for existing in your presence.

Happy Tuesday all – with great compassion,

Dr. Amy

PS – If you’re a provider ready to transform how you care for patients by learning about the MOST important medicine, relational health, at a conference that feels more like a retreat, then I’d love for you to join me at my next retreat created especially for you. Click here to learn more and get registered. 

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