Today, we talk parenting with two amazing people, husband and wife Chris and Holly Santillo, authors of Resilience Parenting.
These two are actually martial arts instructors who are going to tell us about positive alternatives to lecturing, bribing, and punishing, focusing instead on three pillars, learning integrity and service.
Your children will no doubt face many challenges in the years ahead, so you want to raise them to be resilient, strong, adaptable, and able to recover. Chris and Holly give us a glimpse on how to do that.
Chris Santillo: We’ve been working with children for our entire careers, and the framework that’s described in this book has just been this slowly evolving thing over all of that time. Increasingly, we’ve encountered people that encourage us to push out to a broader audience, because when we work as martial arts instructors, we’re working with children in a studio, there’s an opportunity to share a lot of the principles that we teach in the book.
But then also they go home to their parents and their parents either support or don’t support what we’re working towards. There’s such a dramatic difference in the outcomes with the kids that go home into homes that are also teaching the same kind of framework that we described in the book.
This is our attempt to engage directly with the parents and teach the framework that’s been so successful with all of the children that we’ve worked with, directly to the parents so that they can do it themselves and support the efforts of other educators.
Holly Santillo: We heard the phrase many times, “You guys should really write a book about this,” and decided to finally do that.
Rae Williams: What was the feeling that you guys had in the very beginning, that deep feeling that your readers and our listeners are going to identify with?
Holly Santillo: Well, we can’t help but notice a certain trend in kids these days. Many young adults in our society, they have all the tools that they would need to build lives that are functional and fulfilling, yet they’re struggling to do so.
Kids that are from a young age all the way up to your teenagers. We see them in the studio, you know? A four-year-old girl who just can’t come out from behind her parent’s legs all the way up to the teenager…
Chris Santillo: Just doesn’t seem to have a relationship anymore with his parents because he’s just too locked into his own head.
Holly Santillo: We believe, and I think a lot of people believe, that the parenting mistakes are at the source.
Chris Santillo: Clearly, it’s not the kid’s fault, they didn’t ask for this. This is our fault as parents when we’re not preparing a child properly.
Holly Santillo: We know that there are aspects of our culture that are feeding our current style of parenting and what we take some guesses at what might be at play, is it the break neck speed of our technological advances, is it social media that so vastly permeates our lives? There’s negative news, that seems to be everywhere with us, and honestly, we’re in a really good spot, economically overall, and we wonder if that has kind of robbed us of the grit of our survival mode.
It seems like there’s a need to teach children how to be resilient.
Chris Santillo: Find a way of being both connected to the people around them, all at the same time being independent. With the example of the young girl, the four-year-old, she lacks the basic independence necessary to engage with people around her productively, and then with the teenager that we mentioned, he doesn’t have any connection to the people around him in any meaningful way to his friends, family, community, etc.
There’s often this almost a tug of war between the two, that a person could be independent and could be connected, which is just isn’t true. If you think about some of the best examples of some of the most functional, fulfilled adults that we all know, they do a very good job of simultaneously having good connections with the people around them as well as being very independent and capable of standing in their own feet and doing all of the things that they want to do in their lives.
All of that is the product, we would argue, of properly executed parenting. Sending someone off into the world who has a good, well-developed sense of both connection as well as independence.
First Steps for Parents
Rae Williams: What do you think is a parent’s first step?
Holly Santillo: Boy, that’s a good one. There are a lot of steps that we have in the book. You know, our overarching goal is to encourage parents to be teachers rather than just caregivers or disciplinarians. We call them the naggers and the naysayers.
A lot goes into that, you know? Our book is kind of split up into three parts of first, advocating for this, be an educator because that’s how you’re really going to reach your child in ways that you haven’t before.
If you’re feeling frustrated, try being a teacher.
Then in this middle section of the book, we encourage teaching values, and the three values that we extol in the book are learning, integrity, and service.
Finally, to give parents confidence in how to do this, how to be a teacher, we just give some nuts and bolts teaching advice on how to be a good teacher, you know? Everything from getting on eye-level with your child, the kinds of things that we use constantly and teach our teachers to use.
Be challenging and not overwhelming.
Set the proper tone for communication. If you want your child to know this is a teaching moment, you need to not be goofy.
Chris Santillo: And all of that comes and is derived from this first idea that we should engage in parenting as educators. That we should view our role as teaching our children. If they’re going to go off into the world as young adults capable of having the kind of lives that they want and deserve, that’s going to come from us, spending those formative years teaching them all the knowledge base and the skill sets that they need to be functional and fulfilled and have that kind of lifestyle that they deserve.
Holly Santillo: Rae, given all of that, if I were to give two things—and it’s going to be one for the parent who is finding a disconnect between him and his teenager for instance. I would advise that parent to take everything that has been a lecture up to this point and trade it for a conversation in which both parties listen and which that parent allows himself to be vulnerable, maybe sharing some failures along with successes.
Have an open discussion about family values instead of just talking about the things that maybe come up naturally in our day to day lives but aren’t so important.
You put your shoes in the wrong spot again, or wait, didn’t you do your homework yet? Instead, open a conversation about something that’s more meaningful, like perhaps one of these values we’ve talked about before.
Chris Santillo: When we aren’t parenting intentionally, we tend to put this great emphasis on the things that just show up in front of us on a day to day basis.
That seems to get the most air time, and then when we take a step back, we’re much more intentional about our parenting. It gives us an opportunity to say, “These are the values that I want to make sure that I communicate to my children.”
Whether they come up organically or not, I’m going to consciously and deliberately put them in front of my child so that I can make sure I’m communicating things that are most important to me.
Holly Santillo: The other parent I want to talk to is the one who is finding that their children maybe are not independent enough. You can start that right away, giving them very simple chores in a home. So if you aren’t already doing that, that’s something that needs to happen.
You might worry that it’s not going to go well to introduce these things that your children need to do. But if you start with a lesson on how chores are tied to something greater than just getting that job done, but it’s tied to service of the family. Explain how service is important or, even more, that your integrity is tied to fulfilling the obligations that you might have, it becomes more important and takes on greater meaning.
The Three Pillars
Rae Williams: There’s so many things that you guys just said that I’m excited to dive into. The three pillars are learning, service, and integrity. Why those three?
Chris Santillo: You can build a really good life out of those three. You know, integrity is sometimes described as the central pillar because it’s kind of necessary for functional life, having integrity with yourself, fulfilling your obligations to yourself is necessary to have the follow through to accomplish things.
Then having integrity with the people around you and the agreements that you make with others is the foundation of all of our relationships, you know?
Lacking being honest and fulfilling your obligations with the people around you, you don’t have any positive, constructive relationships—that can destroy those all pretty quickly.
Holly Santillo: They really lead into that independence and connectedness that we’re talking about.
Chris Santillo: Absolutely. Then, the learning and service are really about having this cup that’s always being filled up—but at the same time, never overflowing. You can kind of picture a person who lacks learning in their life, and maybe they have performed a lot of service and they have great relationships with people…
Lacking a better example, we sometimes come back to the stay at home mom with her two or three kids and her husband’s off at work all day long.
She spends every moment of her day serving her kids and her husband. She’s on the PTA as well and she works with her community and her church and what not, and she gives so much of herself. She feels wonderful about that but she never takes that language course or that piano lesson that she wants to take because she’s busy taking her kids somewhere. She never goes back to school to get that degree she wanted to do.
She never goes back to work because she needs to be there for her kids, and she eventually feels a sense of emptiness. In the most extreme case, she can come up resenting the very people that she serves.
That’s kind of the extreme case of someone who has a lot of service in their life but lacks learning.
Then the flip side of that is the person has a lot of learning—we draw the caricature of the perpetual grad student, half-dozen doctoral degrees but has never done anything more useful in society than providing clever entertainment at a dinner party.
They just aren’t giving of themselves.
By having a good balance of both learning and service in our lives, we continue to have more and more of ourselves than we can share, then doing a great job of sharing that with the people around us and reaping the fulfillment that comes from that.
The integrity really is about having a life that’s functional and works, and it allows you to be independent and connected to the people around you. Then the learning and service are really about making sure that that life is fulfilling.
Parent or Friend?
Rae Williams: What do you guys think about having a friend relationship with children instead of being teachers or parents?
Chris Santillo: I think I understand the appeal. Very personally, my three children are three of the most wonderful human beings I could ever dream to know. But I have a responsibility and obligation, we all as parents have an obligation to raise those kids and make sure that they go off into the world.
They have friends, they need parents.
If we trade those roles then we provide one additional friend at the cost of them receiving the guidance that they need through their childhood.
Our role as parents, our obligation, is to make sure we raise these kids. That comes in the role of educator. I would argue that the most important thing we will do in our lifetimes is to raise our children.
I have no more important task in my life than raising these three children that we have. I would argue that it’s true of all of us as parents.
Despite the temptation, as much as one might adore and love their children, I think we sell them short when we treat them as friends.
Rae Williams: Going back to those three values, you believe that those are best instilled if you are a teacher to your children first, right?
Holly Santillo: Well, yes. Anything that you want your children to learn is going to be best given to them if you take the mindset of a teacher, absolutely.
Chris Santillo: There’s a lot of pieces to that, you know? One of the most important components of being a good teacher is modeling the behaviors so that you hope other people to exhibit. Step one is to look in the mirror and make sure that we’re exhibiting the kind of learning integrity and service that we hope our children will adopt, and then make sure that we draw that out to them.
Did you see how we handled that? and, That’s a good example of learningor, That’s a good example of service integrity,and Let’s talk about that…having engaging in this real conversations with our children about real life things that happened and how it affects our lives.
First we need to model and then we need to draw that out and we need to teach it in a broader context as well.
Raising Resilient Children
Rae Williams: Talk to me a little bit more about why our children need to be resilient and what happens when we don’t raise resilient children?
Chris Santillo: Resilience as we define it is composed of strength, adaptability, and recovery. That is to say, as we encounter challenges and difficulties in life, many of them we can encounter we meet head on and we attack them with some combination of a physical mental and emotional strength.
That is, to a large extent, derivative of the learning that we’ve had to that point or life.
We’ve learned skills, we’ve learned tactics, and we’ve learned how to best address different challenges. Strength is going to be our first line of defense whenever we encounter a challenge.
The next level of threats—and they’re always things that are bigger than us—are going to rely a lot on our ability to adapt.
Sometimes the best answer is to come at it from a different angle. Adapt, change, pivot is the new terminology in business these days, and a lot of that is going to depend on our relationship that we have, the connectedness that we’ve developed up to this point, which as we previously discussed is derivative of our integrity.
Lastly, we’re all going to encounter situations in life that just knock us down flat one way or another, whether it’s the loss of a loved one or a bankruptcy or any of a thousand things.
Then our ability to recover is going to rely a lot on the connections that we’ve made and our strength of character that we’ve developed. Our independence, our ability to say all of this happened but it’s time to get up and move forward.
That’s a resilience as we define it, and that’s all going to be built up by this independence and connectedness, as well as our ability to really leverage the learning and integrity and service that we developed.
From Teachers to Parents and Back Again
Rae Williams: I would love to hear a little bit of you guys’ journey.
Chris Santillo: It’s funny, just the other day I was teaching instructor seminar to some newer instructors, and it was fun because most of them don’t have kids. A couple of them had kids but most of them don’t have kids.
I kind of couldn’t help but put myself in that same position where I was 20 years ago, learning to be an instructor and not having kids.
I want to give myself a little bit of credit—I was very forgiving of the parenting that I observed 20 years ago. Appreciating that it had a lot of difficulty, and it’s true. When we had our own kids, we found out, yes, we were right.
Holly Santillo: We always said we only need to work with your kids for one hour. 24 hours a day, or 23 I guess, is a whole other animal. It is possible.
Chris Santillo: You know, we have been developing and refining these methodologies, and as we mentioned earlier, our background is as martial arts instructors. We like to emphasize that there’s nothing martial arts in particular about the book, and it’s not written for martial artists per se.
That’s the arena in which we’ve engaged with children for the last 20 something years.
There’s just so many opportunities because the foundation of everything that we teach in the studio is all about the life skills, you know? As we like to say, punching and kicking is really just a metaphor for living your life well and the discipline that you need in order to perform well in class is same discipline that you need to perform well in school.
When we teach a four-year-old to a practice martial arts independently, we’re laying the foundation for a middle schooler who can do their school homework by themselves.
That’s kind of where all this came from and developed. We obviously learned a lot from our instructors when we began, and then we’ve been very blessed—we have four schools and hopefully more and more students and more and more opportunities to work with kids and young people and help them along their journey.
So we’ve got some wonderful experiences over the years of just watching children transform in a lot of cases from the very shy child who needed more confidence and independence and ability to stay up tall or look people in the eye and stand up for themselves, as well as the other end of people who weren’t engaging with the people around them who didn’t have good relationships with their parents and their family and their friends.
And finding ways to again at some root level instill a sense of confidence and a sense of comfort that they could start engaging with those. So as I said, it has been an evolving methodology, but it has ultimately brought us to what we have in this book here.
Holly Santillo: Then our own personal story as parents, well having been teachers in our career life, really has led us to be a certain kind of parent. We just found that it works.
Teachers are the people who provide a light where there was darkness, and they show you the way. It is not only just a way of communicating with your children but it is a mindset that they are capable of learning what you want to teach them.
Any teacher who believes in their students is going to feel that positivity. If we lose that as parents, boy we’re sunk. Not only that, the other great thing that comes from approaching this as a teacher…a great teacher is going to make a lesson plan for his or her class.
Any good teacher can wing it, and trust me, we have all done that in the studio and as parents.
Like, “Oh yes, what is the answer to that question and what are we going to do today guys?” But anytime you plan for what you want to teach, you are going to make an amazing experience.
It is just the way it works, right? So a big part of our book here is encouraging parents to parent with intention. Sit down with your partner if you have a partner, and the children too, and come together to find out what is your core set of values that you want to define for your family.
When you set forth your values as a family then anytime you come across a problem, any kind of conflict or a challenge, you know the kinds of things which require you to be resilient, you have those values upon which to reflect and bounce off your course of action.
That is how you can be a teacher—by taking the lesson that you want to impart and giving it a level of meaning far beyond, “You need to do this because I said so.”
Chris Santillo: But that is such a useful phrase.
Rae Williams: I feel like a lot of people have that. The core of their parenting is “I am the parent, you are the child. Do this because I said so.”
Chris Santillo: Yeah and I don’t want to imply that I have never said those words. I am not proud of saying them but they come out of my mouth too, I have to confess. But like Holly said, when you take the time to really articulate your values both for yourself and as we touch on in the book, most of us careen into parenting without having a clear of a sense of our own value set as I think that we think that we do.
Until your values are tested and until strain is put upon them, you don’t necessarily know what exactly they are I think in a lot of cases and parenting is a great opportunity to either ignore that and wonder forward blindly for the next 18 years or to sit down both with your partner and with your children when they are old enough and talk about what those are.
When you talk about what your values are, you better understand them.
Once you articulate them as a family, then you have something you can go back to.
So when you have a child who does something that they shouldn’t do, maybe they lie or maybe they take something you shouldn’t do or they claim something that they had to finish the task that they hadn’t finished, you have to go back and say, “We were talking about this last weekend and what were the values we discussed? Remember we discussed honesty. Well honesty is one of the things we touched on, and we agreed that was an important value of our family.”
Now it is not the lecture that the parent standing there wagging their finger. It is, “e agreed as a family that we value honesty and is your action consistent with that? No, your action isn’t consistent with your values that we have. How are we going to fix this?”
So now we’re being constructive and we are moving forward and we are coaching them through hopefully to find the right answer on their own. Obviously that won’t always be the case.
Whenever possible coaching them around to finding the answer themselves and figuring them out themselves, because those lessons are always the best.
Holly Santillo: Our middle child was in an all weekend long conference with other children and he’s eight. He was seven at the time, so we were a little worried about him. He is the one who maybe a little shy sometimes in front of unfamiliar people.
So one evening we had a meeting with the parents. All the parents come in, and meanwhile the kids have been there all day. And the teacher shared this is what we have been doing so far and we’re going to have actually two kids come and share for themselves what they have been working on…and lo and behold, my middle son walks in with a teenage girl and stands in front of a crowd of unfamiliar adults and speaks confidently in front of them.
I was just so struck. Not only that, the leader of the conference said, “You know what really impressed me? One of these kids stood up and defined integrity for me as being honest and fulfilling your obligations.”
I was like, “That is my kid. It is working, they are listening!”
Parenting with the Three Pillars
Rae Williams: Do you have a specific success story of someone who has used these principles?
Chris Santillo: Right, there are so many different examples of sometimes it is hard to pin down one. We were actually discussing it this morning. A young man his name is – well, let us call him Jim for simplicity. He came into our studio as a tween, I want to say like 14, 15 years ago, something like that.
He had minor physical handicaps, nothing terribly severe, but certainly enough to make him very self-conscious in school and especially in an age when self-consciousness runs rampant. He disconnected a little bit from his parents, I think kind of derivative of that. He felt that they didn’t understand his pain, that he was very uncomfortable around the other kids.
That is where it was most pronounced, and this was showing up in his school work as we are going into this middle age. So we worked with him and his parents. His parents actually ended up becoming students as well, and we worked with them for years.
He was a student until after he graduated high school, and his parents were there as well until they moved away. Just really underscoring day in, day out the learning and the integrity and the service.
I remember once we had this great conversation. He came into my office, and he was this 16-year-old kid, six inches taller than me. He was so – yeah there is not a better word. He was so arrogant and so full of himself.
He just thought that he had recently gotten a black belt. And he was so sure that he was the cat’s meow and we had this beautiful sit down and we talked and we talked and we talked about the contribution that other people had done. What his parents had done before and what the studio had done for him, what the instructors had done for him and just really built on the lessons that we had been planting for years.
We had a vocabulary of learning and integrity and service that we could draw on because we had been cultivating it for years.
And his mother called me the next morning and she said, “What did you and Jim talk about?” I said we had talked about lots of things. She said, “Because he came home last night and he thanked me for being his mother and I just don’t know how to process that.”
So that was beautiful. We had a lot more conversations thereafter, and he really grew into the life that he deserved. He is doing really well now.
He is pushing 30 now, I don’t know, it has been a while. He really became the young man that he deserved to. He was not on a trajectory to do that.
The last letter I received, the last email I received from his parents is really sweet just talking about how the principles they were able to touch on in their lives and share with their child is so powerful for Jim and the life that he now has.
Holly Santillo: I want to share a success story with myself. So I was driving with my kids in the car, and I heard a strange sound and for a moment paused but then moved on. It was probably nothing.
But then at the stoplight I had this little conversation with myself. I had to confess that it was probably something and that something probably was me clipping the side of someone’s car.
I was like, “No, no” because I knew it was not a very big sound. It couldn’t be so bad and so myself said, “You could just go. I mean it is not a big deal” and my other self said, “Yeah but you know that whole integrity thing that you have been teaching your children, you probably ought to own up to that.”
So I did. I turned around and I went back and I didn’t see anything and I was like, “Oh yeah. See self? It was nothing…Oh but are you sure? You better stop that car and get really in there and be sure that you didn’t hit that car.”
Well sure enough I had. I clipped a centimeter off of somebody’s side view mirror.
I thought, “Well that is nothing. I mean who is going to care about that.” But again, having talked with my children about these values, I couldn’t in my right mind let it go.
So I left a note, because part of integrity is fulfilling your obligations and being forthright with someone. Sharing what it is they deserve to know.
“I hit your car, let me know what I need to do to make it right.”
But the most important part of this story, to bring it back to being parents as teacher and back to a point a while back of being vulnerable, I had to share this with my kids. I made a mistake, and I needed to share with them the struggle that went on within me, because that is how they can understand that I also am human.
I am not a parent who has all the answers, and it is not always easy for me and I don’t want to pay $500 to replace a mirror just for a centimeter of plastic.
Chris Santillo: Our children view us and they put us on a pedestal certainly when they are young anyway.
When they are young they don’t know any better, and we like that image that we’re perfect. We know everything and we are going to come down on them from high and we are going to teach them how to live this life.
The reality is at some age they’re eventually going to figure out that that is not just true and the harder we try to cling to that falsehood the more destructive it is going to be when they realize it isn’t true.
So confronting it head on and just being like, “Hey you know I certainly have far more life experience than you do, I have a better idea of to answer and deal with this situation, but I am human and I make mistakes and sometimes I have to talk myself into it.” Then when they have that same problem, when they encounter a similar situation and they struggle with their integrity, they don’t feel like they are the worst person who ever lived.
They don’t feel that they are this terrible failure, but rather struggling with your integrity and deciding whether or not you should even know when you clip on this car, that’s being human. Deciding in the end after struggling to leave the note makes you a good human.
The fact that you struggle doesn’t make you bad.
I think that that’s something that we really need to make sure to communicate to the kids—that the struggles are real and it is how we come out at the end that defines us as people. Not whether or not we have the struggle in the first place.
Holly Santillo: This brings my mind back to the question that you had—should parents be friends to their children? I think that the reason that we want to be friends with our children is to have a deep relationship with them, to not always feel like we are just this distant person with the answer.
So what we’re talking about gets back to that. We want to be connected with our children, but not in the same way that their childhood friends are.
I think that the advice given in this book helps you accomplish both the ability to give them the advice that they need, but not from that pedestal position, and end up having a relationship that is truly deep and founded in something profound.
Rae Williams: Can you issue a challenge to your readers and our listeners—what is one thing they can do, I usually say to transform their lives but in this case to transform their child’s. What is one thing they can do that you would issue to them as a challenge this week?
Chris Santillo: If we were to present a challenge to our parents, I think one of the things that seems increasingly hard in this generation of parents to do is to allow our children to fail. I think that that is a very important part of the formative experience of childhood.
We need to make sure that we create situations in our children’s lives where they will fail, but also they will be able to recover. We can provide support in those situations, but we also need to resist the urge to go catch them every time they start to waver.
That’s a very difficult thing for most parent to do now, and I respect that. I love my kids too, and seeing them cry is painful. But knowing that every time that they encounter difficulty in this point of their lives and they struggle a little bit and occasionally fail and have to recover and get back up again.
That builds strength that is going to be able to translate later in life into the ability to stand up against bigger things and having the confidence that when they do fail they can recover.
Because that is a really important confidence to have, the knowledge that when things go wrong and you get knocked flat that you can get back up again. If you never fail you never develop a confidence in your ability to recover from failure.
I would encourage our readers and listeners to be comfortable with letting their kids encounter challenges on their own and fail and resist the urge. Put your hands in your pocket and resist the urge to save them from every little step.
Rae Williams: How can our listeners contact you?
Chris Santillo: They can reach us at resilienceparenting.info as well as on all those various social media channels that are so popular despite how suspect we consider them.
Holly Santillo: We are also going to be putting our resilience parenting to the test in the next couple of years living nomadically. We are selling our house and all of our possessions and we are going to be traveling.
Chris Santillo: And they can read about that at fivebackpacks.family.