Discipline, punishment, & boundaries with parenting coach Irene McKenna


This week I had the opportunity to chat with parenting coach Irene McKenna. Previously a physical therapist, Irene felt called to make a change. What started out as a journey into health coaching eventually morphed into discovering her passion and becoming a parenting coach. Along the journey, she also radically changed her own parenting practices and her entire relationship with her children.

I asked Irene about what her goals are when she’s helping families, and she explained that her ultimate goal is to reframe the way we see children and their behaviors. She wants parents to be able to let go of fixing behaviors or changing their kids. We can shift from taking our kids’ behavior personally and feeling like they’re purposely being difficult, to seeing that they are struggling and need support and guidance.

Great, Irene, now how do we make this happen? With all the demands of life and the chaos of raising tiny humans, how do we foster this change? Irene shares that she actually had a coach herself. Having her own coach was helpful to her because this person held her accountable and helped support her but also stretched her and pushed her outside of her comfort zone. Change is a muscle and we have to be mindful to create the time and space to create change. We have to recognize that if we want to change our kiddos’ behavior, we have to be willing to change our own.

Having someone to walk that path with you and encourage you can be really helpful. Irene and I dove into the brain science of parenting. Irene shared that when we are dealing with a conflict with our child, our brain reacts the same way it would as if we were being chased by a lion. It is a biological stress response that throws us into our emotional brain and prevents us from fully seeing our child or the situation.

Our reaction then sends our children into a stress response, which shuts down learning. When we can find our calm, recognize our triggers, and move into our logical brains we can choose our response and foster connection. Irene also talked about the way we are programmed as young children. Our brains are absorbing everything around us and we pick up on parent/child dynamics at a very young age. Shaped by society, culture, media, and family we are programmed to expect certain things from our kids. One example is the belief that children should listen to their parents, or that children should clean up after themselves. When we go into our emotional brain, we go into autopilot and operate from these programmed beliefs, preventing us from fully seeing our children. If we are operating from a place of “my child is trying to get away with this” we will be inclined to clamp down on control, which creates further resistance. If we can step back and see that our child is struggling and doing the best that they can, the response shifts to one of support.

We also dove into when and where to set boundaries and why it’s important to be consistent. Kiddos crave the security of a firmly held boundary. And it is their job to test that boundary. This helps reassure them that they are safe and secure. It can be helpful to shape boundaries around a value, so you might say something like “I can’t let you stay up until midnight because it’s my job to keep you healthy.” It’s also helpful to remember that testing boundaries means resistance. And it’s okay for kiddos to resist the boundary and have big emotions about it. In fact, we should expect them to do so and be prepared for how we would like to respond rather than react when they do. 

We wrapped up our chat by talking about self-limiting beliefs and how to work past those to allow room for change. Sometimes, fear of failure or judgment can hold us back from taking the steps to make changes. Change can make us vulnerable and it can feel easier to stay in our comfort zones. Redirecting our energy to make space for change and recognizing why we want to make the changes is important. We also talked about how perfectionism in parenting can hold us back and how to let go of that. We ended our chat emphasizing the need for parents to give themselves grace in order to allow them to find their calm and connect with their kiddos. This isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be THIS hard. Who is in your village to support you on this parenting journey? 


Irene can be reached at her website and on Facebook.



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