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Parenting Teenagers Using the EMBRACE Method

Samantha S. Woo, author of How to Stop Yelling & Start Connecting with Your Highly Emotional Teen, shares The EMBRACE parenting method for parents dealing with teenagers who are tempted to yell or anything else.  The EMBRACE method is a seven-step model developed by Internal family systems and the concept is that we're all made up of parts inside of us. We have access to this healing inside in the deepest part of our souls through the Spirit. Once we know which part of us is reacting to the part of your teens, then we can start connecting as parents.

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Bio

Samantha Woo, LCSW, is a Certified Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapist and author of the book “How to Stop Yelling & Start Connecting with Your Highly-Emotional Teen”  She is also in private practice helping anxious people find their spirit-led balance.

Samantha has a BA in Neuroscience and Behavior from Wesleyan University, an MSW from California State University, and a Clinical Fellowship from Bryn Mawr College Graduate School of Social Work.

She is married and has three young adult children herself, with plenty of “schooling” in the parenting realm, both past, present, and in years to come. She is a believer in process and sharing, even when things are not perfect.

Myrna: In your book you teach a method of, parenting, that's called the, EMBRACE method. Can you tell us what that acronym stands for?

Book: How to stop yelling & start connecting with your Highly emotional teen
Book: How to stop yelling & start connecting with your Highly emotional teen

What is the EMBRACE Method

Samantha: Yeah, so I'm so glad that you noticed that it was both an acronym and the word embrace.  That was part of the intention in me coming up with this is a seven-step layman's approach, based on internal family systems model by Dr. Richard Schwartz. He came up with the internal family systems, parenting, model and I took it and expanded on it knowing that how hard it is to get trained on this system.

So, I digested it, broaden whatever I could and then came up with this for the everyday person, everyday parent that's dealing with, teenagers, who are tempted to yell or anything else.  So, it's a seven-step model and the two main aspects of this is very similar to the internal family systems which is that we're all made up of parts inside of us and we have access to this healing inside in the deepest part of our souls through the Spirit.  Basically, it says we should check our own parts before we check somebody else's parts.

This whole idea of parts is also confusing for the everyday person. So let me explain. The internal family systems believes that we're all born with parts like for instance, the way where we have hands and feet and all these physical parts. But our personalities also have parts, we have personality parts that make us individuals. You have seen the, parents, yelling at the sidelines of a soccer field.  So, it's just kind of recognizing we all have these parts, and then as we live and have, traumas, as parts become very burdened with messages that they take in, and then they become very extreme in their behavior. And then their behavior takes over.

Other parts, become disconnected with other parts and you and the Holy Spirit inside and they just kind of take over. So, this view is what we're kind of bringing in to the, parent teen relationship.  When a teen for example, is saying I hate you get away from me and then slams the door, we can see that it might be an unhealed part of them, not all of them. Because, it's so tempting for us, parents, to say, oh my gosh, my, teen, hates me. Well, I hate them too. It’s being able to take a step back and say, you know, it's a part of them that is unhealed and kind of helps us to get curious, and also to recognize that we're reacting to I hate you.

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Is your parenting style to yell at your teens?

Myrna: My, parenting style, would be to yell “Get back in here right now”

Samantha: Yeah. That's what usually happens, right? We can get curious about that. Well, part of me is reacting to that and as we kind of become more aware of our parts and their parts.  We have more space to kind of let the Spirit work and help us to connect all these parts that are pretty much isolated and extreme because they don't know that they have access to this healing center.

Myrna: Now I understand. You explained how you came about the seven steps, EMBRACE method. I actually never heard before that we have parts like personalities because, it's very interesting, because one of the things that I do is I do yell at my, teenagers, almost all the time. You're saying that's because of my unhealed parts or maybe my parents yelled at me and that's what I'm yelling. But I wanted to understand what EMBRACE stands for.

Samantha: Yes, it does. This is the, EMBRACE method

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The Embrace method of parenting

  • E – stands for, exhale. It means to take a step back. You know how we breathe when we're really stressed?
  • M – is to move and its meaning to like move according to what the Spirit is telling you is. Get in tune with the discomfort and move.
  • B- is to, befriend, the parts in ourselves that are uncomfortable.
  • R- is to relate, recognizing we have things that we can, relate, to them like our own internal, teenagers.
  • A – is for, access, accessing what is underneath all this behavior. Access, to the vulnerable stuff underneath all of this external stuff both in our, teenagers, and in ourselves? Why are we yelling? What is that protecting? What is the need? So, something to be curious about.
  • C – is create, create, something different.
  • E – is to, engage, not move away from but, engage, with your teen. And it's a level of commitment.

Myrna: I absolutely love it. So, let's test my memory here. So, exhaling, is good because they also tell you that you should take a breath, anytime somebody, pisses you off, or you're angry or something, then you take a breath. So that's really good, whether it's your, teen, or your spouse, or your boss. You, exhale, and you take breath.

It’s also good to get up and move about. You know, wherever you're sitting or whatever you're doing, movement creates a little bit of energy, and that also helps to calm the situation and calm you. Befriending, your disrespectful, teenager, is very difficult.

Samantha: It's very difficult and impossible, unless we understand the parts of us that really are annoyed by them. You know what I mean?

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Relating to our teens

Myrna: Yes, when, teenager, says I hate you, you're ruining my life. It is very difficult to be thinking, befriend, at that moment. So, in order for you to, befriend, I would think you need therapy. As parents we can, relate, to when you were a, teenager, you can, relate, to how important friends are to them and you can, relate, that your, teenagers, want to be liked at school.  And maybe that's why they're not doing their homework because they want to be liked. So, relating is this easier for most, parents, to do so.

Samantha: You're so right. It's so much easier. I guess. The challenge of, befriending, that word would be becoming curious about what they're wanting. We want to kind of modify the behavior, we want the results. So, we, befriend, to access what is underneath. We, befriend, to gain access to that vulnerability of what is driving that behavior. And just being able to do that takes that relating. Because you'd be surprised, teenagers, want to know even though they act like they don’t. So, they're kind of wanting a little bit of that attachment and knowing that there's a home base, but then what they want to be separate at the same time.

Teenagers, want to know that they are conditionally accepted in love.

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How to Use the create parenting method with teenagers

We use, create, to create new memories, because this dance becomes old. The dance of, I hate you, you’re grounded, leave me alone. It's a repetitious cycle. So, we, create, something new and it starts with what we can, create, inside of ourselves as, parents. What defense mechanism are our, teens, using and how can we create something new. For example, of saying “you’re grounded” maybe creating something new would be a different response. Maybe offering them a choice. Oh, I hear that you hate me. Here's some choices. What would you like to do? Would you like to talk about it? Or do you would you like to just be left alone?

Myrna; I like that. We are staying engaged for the longer term, it's kind of like that commitment. It's like staying in that fight. A lot of, parents, have given up, on their, teens, and they live their own lives. Teenagers, are just left to themselves, but that's not what they need. They still want to know that you care.

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What are some, parenting tips for teenage son?

Samantha: The first, parenting advice, would be to, exhale, first and foremost, because we can't just mindlessly engage your, teenager. So that is really important to, exhale. And as you, exhale, I would ask what part of me is triggered right now? And what part of my, teen, was just talking? And just even understanding. Using parts language and saying, it's not all of him? It's not all of me.

Another, parenting tip, would be again to, befriend. And if that is hard to do, I would try to, relate. Try to remember the, teen, inside of you and most likely yelling part might be stopped. Then finally, the last, parenting tip, for your, teenage, son would be, create. Let's disrupt the old dance. That takes some creativity, and that comes from that spirit inside that I was talking about. And I think we need to remember that access to that healing, core spirit is there. I think that is the hope that's in this model. Therapy is helpful and you know, coaching is great. And when that is not available right away. Do you have something available here?

Myrna: Awareness is the important thing in anything. So, what we're doing here is we're building awareness that there is a method or there is a way to connect to our, teenagers, in the, EMBRACE method.

So how do you teach, parents, to form lifetime friendships with their, teenagers?

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Your kids won't be teenagers forever

Samantha: Thank you, it starts with your relationship with you. Which I'm sure you as a coach you know that a lot of times when we see the, teenager, child that we specifically don't get along with, usually because parts of them that really resonate with parts of us. And so, being able to access your awareness, you can be able to be aware of that and standing the game and staying there as that. That steady hand and steady heart as they're going back and forth and you know, acting out and all that and letting them know you're here for the long haul, and not like demonizing.

Myrna: Awesome. What do you want, parents, and other readers to walk away with after reading your book?  You said, it's not only for Christians, it's not only for, parents of teenage children.

Samantha: Yes, thanks for asking that question because it's so important and I feel like the answer is important. At the end of the book, when I wrote my acknowledgments, I realized that it came from an intersectionality of many communities. So, I think I would want listeners and readers to walk away with hope for, parenting teens, and being in a relationship with, teenagers. Sometimes those are the things that drive us to despair. I want, parents, to not give up, I want them to know this method works. This stuff actually really works. I've seen it in my practice. I've seen it in my personal life.

Conclusion

In conclusion I want to say It's hard when the, teens, are yelling at you and telling you what to do. But don't give up on them. Don't walk away or shut the door. Have hope that they will grow up.

You can pick up a copy of my book on Amazon

How to Stop Yelling & Start Connecting with Your Highly-Emotional Teen: Healing Anxiety, Depression & Trauma Using The E.M.B.R.A.C.E. Parenting™ Method

or on my website is  SW Counseling & Wellness For Anxiety (swcwellness.com)  at a discounted price of 99 cents until end of November.

Additional Resources 

Why Health Literacy for Children is Important