Interview with Alejandra Siroka, founder of Language Alchemy, on her experiences helping couples and parents transform their lives through language.
By Gina Gorman, Natural Resources Board Member
Welcome to the “Listen and Learn” Interview Series...part of our “It Takes a Village” Fundraising & Awareness Campaign!
We know that raising kids is tough. The endless power struggles. The tension that builds among family members. Feeling exhausted instead of energized…
At the heart of these parenting challenges is an incredible tool that actually shapes your daily life and relationships: language. The language you use every day shapes your world and is your bridge to deeply connecting with yourself and others.
This is exactly what Alejandra, the founder of the Language Alchemy, teaches her clients. Her passion is to transform her clients’ lives and relationships by transforming their language.
Alejandra teaches a class about conscious communication at Natural Resources. The tools she brings to her classes and coaching sessions can help strengthen your relationship with yourself, your partner and your kids. This can help you feel confident and proud of your parenting. And empower you to raise strong, happy, resilient kids.
We’re happy to share some of her thoughts with you today.
In this episode, we discuss:
- Alejandra’s background, work and her interest in conscious communication.
- The importance of learning about communicating with our children in developmentally important ways.
- How we can use our best communication skills...even when we’re not feeling at our best.
- What parents can do to change their patterns and build new communication skills.
- Three things new and expecting families should know.
Alejandra’s BackgroundGina: Alejandra, why don't you give us a little bit more info about your background, what you do and why you're interested in this topic of conscious communication?
Alejandra: Well, I grew up in the north of Argentina, in a small city called Salta that's a tourist city. In one of my earliest memories, my mom and I were walking. And I saw these people who were dressed differently, they looked differently than me. I let go of my mom's hand, and ran to them to talk to them, only to realize they didn't speak Spanish. That was my first introduction to, oh, there are different languages in this world.
Language is so powerful. It can help us connect, heal, bond. And it also helps us distract, separate, disconnect and harm.
I was fascinated by this aspect of language, so I devoted my life and all my energy to study as much as I could of language and communication.
I have three master's degrees in the field of language and communication — at one point I knew five different languages! And I've also studied language and communication from not just the linguistics perspective, or the social linguistics, or psycho linguistics perspective. But also neurobiology, mindfulness, ancient Western traditions, nonviolent communication, neuro linguistic programming, and honestly, any kind of communication approach I could get my hands into.
But once I got married I realized that even though I knew a lot about language, I didn't know how to use language consciously to have the kind of relationships I wanted to have.
When my husband and I had our first argument, I realized I was communicating with my husband the way my parents communicated with one another when they were upset with each other! I was just repeating the same patterns.
I don't want to have another generation in the future communicating in this way because it leads to a lot of unnecessary suffering. So that was a huge motivation to learn how to shift the way I communicated and learn as much as I could to be conscious and aware of the way I was communicating...
Communicating with Our Children in Developmentally Important Ways.
Gina: What do we need to learn about communicating with our children in developmentally important ways? How can we really be at our best when we're communicating with them?
Alejandra: First of all, we need to know that it takes about seven years for children to get the download of the system that we call language. When we are little, we start off exploring the world around us through our senses. We put things in our mouths, we touch things, we look at them. We're fascinated with our senses as we are learning language.
But it takes about 26 years for the front part of our brain — the neo frontal cortex — to fully develop.
So even though our children are learning and can say things that are wise, and cute, and wonderful, and curious, and tender and heartwarming...without having a fully developed brain, they don't have the capacity for certain things.
For example, when children are little, they don't have the capacity to grasp that they are separate from another object or person. They believe they are both the same — they are one.
So when we see three or four year olds who want the same toy, and they're like, "No, me, mine, me, mine," it is because developmentally they're not ready to share. They have no idea what the concept is.
And when we shame our kids for not sharing, saying, "Oh, you're being selfish, you're not sharing that." Or "Be a good child, share with your friend." We're not communicating with our children respectfully, because they aren’t able to understand the concept of sharing.
Similarly, children younger than seven or eight don’t have a concept of time yet, as their brain has developed this skill. So when we try to set boundaries saying, "give me 10 minutes," or "you'll have 5 more minutes of screen time..." this really means nothing to them.
We want to guide our children, to discipline them and help them to be self reflective. These are all beautiful values. But we don’t start to have self-reflected capacities until around the age of 14.
So when we tell a five year old, a seven year old, "Go to your room and think about what you did." For children, that is devastating, because we as parents are our children's source of safety and connection. And what we have done is we have said to our children, "You are alone. You are no longer connected to the source of connection. And further — you have to figure it out."
I’ve worked with so many parents who have developed such disconnected relationships with their adult parents. And when we go and look at how they're communicating with them, we see that they have memories of being put in a room or being given a time out. And all they could feel was how unfair this was.
They didn't understand. It was confusing. It was scary. They felt alone. They didn't feel connected.
So these are ways in which we need to be mindful of our children's development and linguistic developmentally appropriate ages to be able to set boundaries in a particular way or communicate with them in another way.
I teach a class with Caroline Griswold, a respectful parenting coach, Language Matters Series. In this class we help teach parents that from the start, we want to communicate to children that we are their source of safety and connection. And that we are going to maintain that...even when we're upset, even when they're doing things we dislike, even when they're doing things we're uncomfortable with.
These are some of the things that we can be mindful about as parents.
Using Our Best Communication Skills During Challenging Times
Gina: I know that this past year and a half has been so challenging for a lot of us as parents, and as families in general. I think a lot of people, a lot of parents are exhausted and things have been pretty stressful. So are there any tips that you have or things that parents should be considering when they're communicating with their children when they're not feeling at their best?
These past two years have been intense and stressful for all of us. In addition to being a parent, you had to be playmates, teachers, 24/7 caregivers and also working professionals!
And if you are in San Francisco or live in a smaller home, it was even more difficult when we had to “shelter in place.” You couldn’t do things outdoors and had to turn your home into a school, a playground, along with your office and everything.
The first thing I would like to say is that as parents: we need to be okay with not feeling our best. The idea that as parents, we need to be at our best all the time causes a lot of unnecessary added stress and suffering to parents.
And be real with other parents or with family. Voice your human limitations and when you need help. That’s the beauty of having your own “village.”
Because as parents, you’re giving so much of yourself for your little ones.
But you also need to have space with other parents, with another parent, or with a dear friend to be able to have your own space, to let go and be held by somebody else...
And that's why all these groups that Natural Resources offers are so useful and helpful, not just because of the content you are going to learn at an intellectual level... But because of the community you're going to be able to have — the connection with other parents who can understand what you're going through.
And remember that you are human! You aren’t going to be at your best all the time. Sometimes you're going to raise your voice, or be impatient, or you're going to get triggered and say something you regret.
That's okay. We all do that. The important thing is that you need to become masterful at repairing the bond of connection and safety with your children.
That doesn't mean telling children, "Oh, I'm sorry I yelled at you. I will not do it again," or, "Mommy is just having a hard day." Because if we give an explanation, we are putting the burden of holding our emotional safety on the child. And they’re not emotionally developed, or psychologically developed to hold that kind of space for us.
Instead, what we need to do is repair the bond of connection — by letting them know that we love them.. Try saying, "I'm so sorry I raised my voice," or, "I just lost it. And I’d like to know if that upset you. I don't want to upset you. Next time, this is what I would like to do." And just hold space for them.
This communicates: You're safe with me. Instead of trying to get the empathy from them and have them hold the space for us.
How to Build New Communication Skills
Gina: Are there any other resources that you have in mind that are great for parents who want to build on their communication skills? Books, or podcasts or things like that?
Check out my podcast called The Language Alchemy Podcast. There are so many episodes devoted to how we develop our communication, language and patterns of communication that can later on lead to disconnection.
Also, check out Caroline Griswold’s classes at Natural Resources.
I’m also working on a new class for Natural Resources about conflict resolution. So stay tuned!
3 Things New and Expecting Families Should Know
Gina: What 3 pieces of advice would you like to tell new and expecting families that you’ve learned from working with the families you support?
First of all, talk to one another and talk to your little one — even if they’re in the womb! Tell them that they're safe where they are right now and that you love them. This is so important.
Listening is the first skill that is developed. Babies as young as five months old can understand certain expressions from their parents. For example, if you’re changing your little one’s diaper, and say "Can I have your right arm?" And you see your five month old raising their right arm.... Even though they can't talk yet, they can understand!
The other thing is to have not just one or two, but several conversations with your partner(s), with your child's parent, co-parent, or co-parents, and develop a shared vision for your parenting.
This is so important. I teach parents to write their own intentions of how they would like to be as parents together and how they would like to support one another when things are easy and when things are hard, and then revise that every year.
And maybe some years you decide, we need some support... And then you talk about what kind of support you're going to need from one another, from other people, or from your community.
The third thing is: talk to your friends and family now and let them know that your relationship with them is going to shift. That sometimes you're going to need support and you need them to check in on you. Start “building your village” from the very beginning!
Gina: My last question is: How can people find you? Thank you so much for giving us this amazing advice. But is there anywhere that you would like to plug? How can people find you online or even with Natural Resources?
Go to languagealchemy.com. And check out my free masterclass taking place in the month of October called “Unlocking the Mystery of True Connection.” I talk to people about what actual connection is through language, instead of just thinking we're connecting. Because in reality, we’re disconnected more today than ever before. As a species, the impact of feeling disconnected from our loved ones, is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
And at the end of October, I will be teaching a six week online course called “Choosing True Connection.” Be sure to listen to my Language Alchemy Podcast and subscribe to my weekly newsletter — where I share transformative communication tools and talk about the podcast as well. I also have an Instagram account, Facebook account and I’m on YouTube.