Welcome to So Mini Ways, Yahoo Life's parenting series on the joys and challenges of child rearing.
Early childhood education specialist Chazz Lewis — better known as Mr. Chazz to his 200k followers on Instagram — is helping people become better parents one enthusiastic post and podcast at a time.
Lewis started as a Montessori teacher, which he tells Yahoo Life was “a big learning experience for me.” He quickly realized that “old-school fear-based, control-based techniques didn't feel right to me” as a teacher. He thought, “There's gotta be a better way.”
So Lewis immersed himself in research and leaned into his keen observations about children, empathetically putting himself in their shoes. “When I say putting myself in their shoes,” he says, “I'm talking about imagining what the rocks must feel like in their shoes.”
While working with children as a teacher, “I very soon realized that I was growing the next generation of humans and I understood the gravity of what I was doing,” Lewis says, “and the practice of truly seeing children — of seeing the world from their eyes — is really what helped.”
Lewis would also casually share advice and recommendations from what he learned with other teachers in the break room at school. “They'd come back and go, ‘Mr. Chazz, that changed my entire day,’” he recalls. “‘It changed this child's entire day.’”
That’s when “a light bulb went off for me to go into teaching the teachers,” says Lewis. “My thought process was, if I could help teachers learn all the things that I learned on my journey, then I can make a pretty huge impact.”
Lewis takes a conscious parenting approach, which he describes as “parenting with awareness.” It’s essentially about mindfully managing your own emotions as a parent and focusing on “self-control — not trying to control another person,” he says. “It’s all about your own growth, and the natural consequence of that is that you will influence and impact the people around you and the people that you care for” — specifically, your own children.
Lewis is also known for creating memorable songs and sharing thought-provoking perspectives to help parents (and kids) create calm and focus on compassion, while building stronger connections. One of his go-to methods to help “bridge the gap” between parents and children is his “see, guide, trust” approach.
“First we have to be able to see the child,” says Lewis, meaning making sure your child feels seen and heard. Once you’ve created that important connection, “then we’ll actually be able to guide them, guide that person in front of us,” says Lewis. Last but not least, trust is about “trusting that they are doing the best they can with the skills and knowledge that they have in the moment.”
A post shared by MrChazz MrChazz (@mrchazz)
Discipline is another key topic that Lewis often addresses in his posts. “People get a lot of things wrong when it comes to discipline,” he says. “One of the biggest things is discipline really means to teach, not to make someone else feel bad.”
In some cases, parents who dismiss their child’s emotions or shame or spank their kids as punishment do so because that’s how their own parents disciplined and treated them. It can be part of a generational cycle, which Lewis defines as “patterns and behavior that we have a tendency to pass on unconsciously or consciously.”
Lewis explains that parents can pass down “a lot of toxic ideas and behaviors” without even being aware of it. “We'll say, ‘I turned out fine,’ and we don't realize that we're holding those toxic beliefs and we're passing them on,” says Lewis. “An example of a generational cycle that we have a tendency to pass on is the dismissing of emotions. We have a tendency to say, ‘You're fine, get over it.’ ‘You get what you get and you don't throw a fit.’ And what we're telling children is disconnecting them from their feelings, from their emotions, which is their internal compass to navigate life.”
As Lewis explains, “all emotions are valid” but “all behaviors aren’t.”
He adds: “It's so important for us to validate and connect with our children's emotions because when we ignore emotions, it doesn't go away. They're still there stuck in our body. And if we're just shoving emotions down, down, down, it will impact our health.”
Promoting emotional growth is about helping children learn that their feelings aren’t bad or something to ignore — their emotions are simply “information from their body,” he says, “and that they learn to listen to that information so that they can learn emotional healthy habits.”
A post shared by MrChazz MrChazz (@mrchazz)
One of the challenges that many parents deal with, however, is staying calm in the face of a child’s strong emotions, such as during the meltdowns that can ensue when it’s time to turn off the TV, do homework or leave the playground. “When children are triggered and they react, we have a tendency then to react the same way,” says Lewis. “So if we want our children in these moments to accept the moment as it is and then to move into problem-solving, we need to model those skills first.”
Above all, Lewis wants moms and dads to know that you don’t have to be perfect to be a good parent. Particularly with social media, it’s easy for parents to compare themselves to other seemingly “perfect” families and feel like they’re failing somehow. But Lewis says “that Instagram family that you're looking at” is a “myth” with a “curated feed.” He points out: “Their life isn't perfect. It's easy to create this kind of perfect facade and compare our lives to it.”
Lewis adds: “The biggest thing I want anyone to be able to get out of my videos is perfect doesn’t exist. The goal isn’t to be perfect every day. The goal is to improve a little every day.”
His motto? “Avoid being a perfectionist — be an ‘improvenist.’”
Video produced by Olivia Schneider.
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