An Interview with Todd Sarner, MA, MFT, Director of Transformative Parenting
Please take a few moments to read this before hiring Todd.
How long have you been doing what you do and how did you get to be a Parent Consultant and Educator?
Well, originally I studied psychology and child development because it had been my goal to work with kids. I received my Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology and many of my early jobs involved working with children and their families. I also worked at times as a counselor and mentor with foster families and with at-risk teens living in group homes.
Early on I started to have questions about working with kids or with whole families. I would see children who were demonstrating some sort of acting-out behavior and typically the parents or other adults in their lives just wanted these behaviors to stop. I had empathy for the parents, but it seemed to me that the behaviors were just symptoms of something else- that the child was trying to tell people that something bigger was wrong. I saw that some progress could be made working directly with the child but I also saw that if there were not changes made in the home that this progress was often only temporary.
This really started to come into focus for me around the time I became a father myself. My partner Jennifer and I met in Graduate School, where we both studied psychology, and we both had experience working with children and adults in different settings. I guess we probably thought somehow that we were better prepared than most parents because of this. The truth is, we felt like we had a lot of the pieces of the puzzle but we weren’t sure how they all fit together.
That’s where Dr. Gordon Neufeld comes in. Jennifer heard about his book, Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers on an internet message board. It was only available in Canada at the time. Dr. Neufeld is a clinical and developmental psychologist who has been working with children and families for over 35 years. He is seen as one of the top parenting and child development experts in Canada and perhaps the leading articulator of the developmental paradigm in the world currently.
We read his book and were blown away. It not only made a lot of sense to us, but it helped connect the dots of a lot of our beliefs, experiences, and education. The puzzle pieces were coming together. I excitedly contacted Dr. Neufeld’s office to make arrangements for him to come to our area to do some talks. We started corresponding by email, which lead to some phone conversations, which lead to me making my way up to Vancouver to do the first of many intensive trainings with him. A little while down the road when Dr. Neufeld was putting together his professional training internship program, he asked me to be on of the first participants, one of twelve total and one of two in America.
The internship lasted much longer than originally expected, about two and a half years. In the meantime, we started our Parent Education & Consulting practice and called it Transformative Parenting. We taught Dr. Neufeld’s classes and courses and began to see clients for consulting. After the internship, Dr. Neufeld asked me to become a Faculty Member of the Neufeld Institute, a position I still hold today.
I want to help parents, I truly do. As a parent myself, I understand how difficult it can be to raise our children the way we want to- the way we deep down inside want to. I attribute this to a culture that doesn’t support parenting the way it should, and because so many of us didn’t really get what we needed as children.
And as much as I want to support parents, the deeper drive is to help kids by helping their parents. A lot of us did not get our emotional needs met as children and those deficits have affected us into adulthood. When I see a child suffering emotionally, it affects me greatly and I want to help.
I think the way our culture is organized today, parents often feel disempowered and overwhelmed. By providing some help- through education, through emotional support, and by working though issues that come up (like difficult behavior), by providing insight and an objective and well trained set of eyes- I have found that the parents we work with end up feeling more confident, less overwhelmed, and like they are going to be able to provide their child with what they need no matter what.
Since 2003, based on the needs of our clients, we’ve been adding new products and services that better achieve these goals, including our exclusive ChildSIGHT Parenting Program, which is based on years of experience with what works with clients.
Who are your clients exactly?
I’ve worked with so many parents from all over the world and while their situations are all unique, there are certain things that they seem to have in common. The parents I work with are loving and dedicated moms and dads. They are doing the very best they can but they need some support and guidance at times. They are usually open-minded, curious, and motivated towards being the best parents they can possibly be and creating real and positive change in their families.
These parents come to me for different reasons. Some are experiencing behavior issues with their children and they want to know effective but relationship-friendly ways of addressing these behaviors. Some are going through divorce and are looking for ways to find some common ground around the raising of their child and handling issues that come up. Others parents that come to see me are just looking for general support and guidance, even if there are not a lot of behavior issues coming up at the moment.
What makes you different from other professionals?
A couple of distinctions come to mind. The first is that this is not therapy. I am trained as a psychotherapist and that training certainly informs what I do, but in this role I am a Parent Consultant and Educator. My goal is to help my clients to feel more confident and empowered in their role as parents and I do this by providing a structure that is part education and part consultation and problem solving.
Another difference is my approach is developmental, not behavioral. Almost everything you see out there in terms of parenting’s advice and experts is centered around how to make your child stop doing what you don’t want them to do as fast as possible. Believe me, I understand the desire for these solutions sometimes, but I know that they don’t work in the long-term. In fact, they don’t even work in the short-term a lot of the time and they actually usually make things much worse. When we are just trying to get rid of symptoms we don’t see that there is an underlying condition causing them that needs to be addressed.
I don’t mind giving directions when appropriate, but what’s much more important long-term is giving parents a map- a deep understanding of what their role is, what their child needs, and what is the cause of behavior problems. I help parents to be proactive and avoid most of the problems that come up, in addition to teaching them how to handle the problems that will inevitably occur.
And lastly, like I mentioned before, I do not work with children most of the time. I’ve learned over time that much more positive and lasting change happens when I help the parents directly.
What type of client do you work best with and what is expected of me?
All of our offerings- the ChildSIGHT Parenting Programs, the courses, the online talks- were created for parents serious about being the best parents they can be and for helping their children grow into their own unique potential.
These parents are tired of feeling stressed out and overwhelmed about parenting sometimes and don’t want to engage in constant power struggles with their children. They are also tired of using discipline methods that don’t work and just feel bad to them. They want to get to a place where their parenting just flows- where they know what to do most of the time and when they don’t, they know they’ll figure it out.
I find that the clients who I work best with are ones who come into our consulting relationship open-minded, accountable and dedicated to doing the work that is sometimes involved in being the best parent we can possibly be. I will customize your program to your own needs and sensitivities and be mindful of what works for you, but I will also ask you to get outside your comfort zone at times. Being a parent, and doing this work, requires some measure of courage. The reward for that courage is amazing new possibilities for your own growth and for your relationship with your children.
For what type of parent is this program NOT going to work?
You really shouldn’t look any further into our programs and services if you are just looking to be told what to do, to get a “quick fix” for the difficulties you are having as a parent. There are lots of books and TV shows out there for you if this is what you want. I know that these things rarely work, if ever, and I cannot advocate for them and still feel the strong sense of integrity that I do about this work. Having said that, sometimes I feel I make this point so strongly that parents who are really having a hard time think that we can’t create some real change in the short-term. We can. I am just of the mindset, and this is born of a lot of experience, that our approach has got to be more about getting to the underlying issues.
This program will also not work for you if your primary need is for psychotherapy or counseling. Although I am a licensed psychotherapist, this work is not therapy.
What is the ChildSIGHT Parenting Program and what does it include?
The ChildSIGHT Parenting Program really has evolved over the years as the result of looking at exactly what gets the best results most consistently in this parent consulting work. I got to the point where I just sat down and looked over my notes for dozens and dozens of clients and the work of some of the people have been the most influential to me, including Dr. Neufeld, and put together a program designed to be as efficient as possible in creating real and lasting change for parents.
After we determine which program is right for you I customize that program to your specific needs, challenges, and goals. Each week we will cover some pre-determined topics but we will also have space for discussing problems that have come up in the week and so we can put the learning into action.
The standard 12-week ChildSIGHT Parenting Program is divided into three phases:
Phase One- Foundations of ChildSIGHT
In many ways, this is the most important part of the program. In this phase we do a more in-depth assessment of your situation and introduce the foundational principles of parenting in a more effective and developmentally-friendly way. Topics include:
- An Introduction to Attachment
- Creating a Culture of Connection in Your Home
- Reading the Need and Taking the Lead
These foundational principles are absolutely essential and can create real change in your home in the short-term. Understanding these principles can have a profound effect on all your relationships- especially with your kids.
Phase Two- Common Behavior Problems
In this phase we address the most common problems that parents bring to us. And of course, this phase is customized to what you are actually experiencing in your life. Topics in phase two include:
- Understanding and Transforming Counterwill
- Who’s in Charge? Dealing with Dominance Issues
- Aggression Problems in Children
Although we customize this phase for your immediate issues, I have found over time that we need to introduce them all because they all come up at different times.
Phase Three- Natural Discipline Practices
In the third phase of the ChildSIGHT Parenting Program, we look at how to bring relationship safe discipline that works into your home. In our culture people have come to believe that discipline is what you do when your child does something wrong. This is not true discipline. We will discuss how to best handle behavioral incidents, but in our work, discipline is mostly what you do so things don’t do wrong in the first place. Topics include:
- Ritual, Structure, and Rest
- How to Handle Incidents
- Soliciting Good Intentions
When you integrate these principles of natural discipline into your parenting, everything works much more smoothly in your life. Your children know what to expect and you don’t find yourself engaging in power struggles nearly so often.
Does this program really work?
Yes. The result of this work is an approach to parenting that, over time and with your dedication and openness, helps you be the parent you truly always hoped you would be and resolves most behavioral issues.
What results can I expect?
Parents who work with me can expect to:
- Feel more confident in themselves as parents.
- Have more loving and connected relationships with their children.
- Gain greater clarity about what their child needs, especially when problems arise.
- Stop reacting so much to their child’s behavior and learn how to be in the lead.
- Feel less intimidated by how others feel they should be parenting and to be more secure in their choices as a parent.
Can I contact some of your former clients to see what it’s like to work with you?
Yes, I encourage you to! One thing you can do is check out some of the client testimonials on the Transformative Parenting website. If you find yourself drawn to any of the particular testimonials, contact me and I’ll provide you with their email address or phone number. If there is not one that stands out for you, let me know. I’ll do my best to put you in touch with 2-3 current or former clients whose situations are similar in some way to yours.
How long does it take to achieve results?
Obviously, that depends on the specifics of your situation and how much you put into practice what we recommend. That said, most of our clients start seeing results in the first couple weeks. Our preference is to work with our clients for a minimum of 12 weeks because that gives us enough time to cover all of the ChildSIGHT Parenting Program topics and create results that that last long-term.
Todd, from everything I’ve read and heard about you and your work, I know that I would like to work with you. What are my options for getting started?
That’s great! I look forward to working with you to achieve your parenting goals…
We have several different options for getting started with Transformative Parenting, covering most peoples goals as well as their time and budget concerns. Here are some of the different programs and products we’ve created for you:
1. The ChildSIGHT Parenting Program (12 weeks)
This is our most popular program and the one we recommend for most clients. In the 12-weeks we work together- in person, on the phone, or online one hour per week- we will create a custom program for you that will cover all three phases of ChildSIGHT, including the ChildSIGHT Foundations, Common Problems, and Natural Discipline Practices.
2. The ChildSIGHT Intensive Program (24 weeks)
For clients who want a more comprehensive program, we have the ChildSIGHT Intensive 24-week program with added personalized support. This is for people with more complex issues that will take more time and who want a higher level of access to me during the week. With the Intensive Program, we are able to go much more in-depth into the three ChildSIGHT phases and detangle more problematic behavior problems that you are experiencing in your home. In addition, Intensive Program participants are able to have one 15-minute phone check-in per week at no additional cost.
3. The ChildSIGHT Foundation Program (4 weeks)
For clients with budget or time concerns, or who feel they just don’t have the need for the longer programs at this time, we now offer the ChildSIGHT Foundation Program where we simply cover the first phase of the regular program.
4. In-Person or Online Courses
Taking part in our in-person (Marin and Sonoma Counties, California) or online courses is a great way to get started with Transformative Parenting. These courses are more affordable than individualized consulting and offer really useful information. Our online courses are really convenient because you can take part from any computer in the world with a high-speed connection. You can see and hear our presenter, watch the presentation slides, and ask questions through the online chat box. No downloads or special technical knowledge required. Our offerings include:
Making Sense of Preschoolers & Kindergartners
Power to Parent I: the Vital Connection.
Power to Parent II: Helping Children Grow Up
Power to Parent III: Common Childhood Problems
Making Sense of Adolescence
Please check for details about these courses on our website. In addition to our online courses, we have one-time parenting classes about once a month.
OK, I know which program I want. How do we get started?
Great! Just give me a call at (415)289-6515 or send an email to: email@example.com and we can schedule a 20-minute initial consult session so we can discuss working together and I can answer any questions you may have.
If I am not sure I’m ready to get started, how can I sample your work at a low cost to see if it’s the right solution for me?
The best thing to do would probably be to go to our website and sign up for our online newsletter. This will enable you to receive our monthly newsletter with exclusive free articles. You will also gain access to an online webinar we conducted entitled, “Overcoming Behavior Problems and Raising a Child That Thrives: Parenting Practices that are Attachment-Safe and Developmentally-Friendly”. This is a 90-minute introduction to our practice that will give you a sense of our philosophy and how we work.
OK, I am ready to do this for myself, but I have a couple of additional questions. Can I call you?
Of course. Just call (415)289-6515 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Either myself or my assistant will get back to you to schedule a time to talk.