Parents and other caregivers of children and youth can hear insights gleaned from the other side at a free event in Thompson on the evening of Sept. 5.
The seminar will be led by Stephen de Groot, a former Thompson resident and the son of former city councillor Adrian de Groot, who puts on such events through a charity known as Getting to Better, an offshoot of his business Myriad Consulting and Counselling.
All participants need to do is make sure their ears are open, de Groot says, something they don't always do for their kids.
"A lot of kids want to talk to their parents or are trying to but there's a lot of barriers," he says. "Parents are terrible listeners."
However, the seminar isn't about chastising parents. On the contrary, de Groot says they're usually doing a lot of things well. He just wants to arm them with some new strategies.
"The biggest thing that I want people to come away with is to be affirmed in what they're already doing well," says de Groot. "That's a big thing. To be affirmed that they're doing some good things as adults in the lives of kids and the second thing is to have some fresh ideas and new ways of building relationships. A lot of parents and caregivers are often wondering like, you know, 'Well, am I a good parent?' Lots of parents beat themselves up so it's, 'Here, you do a lot of really good things and here are some new things to think about enhancing and strengthening your relationships with kids, getting them to open up and talk and those kinds of things.'"
When it comes to talking to children and teens, de Groot speaks from experience, having worked with hundreds of teens and families as a social worker and counsellor.
"I have worked with over 1,200 teenagers directly either individually or with families or in small groups and worked with over 500 families struggling with teenagers," de Groot says. "They've taught me a lot. My formal education is the smallest aspect of my ability to help people. I have a lot of experience working in child welfare and justice. I work with level 5 kids in child welfare that are, you know, getting kicked out of foster homes and I work with kids in jails and I work with kids in schools that are struggling, so just tons of stories from kids around what works and what hasn't worked and I kind of compile them into a format that's teachable."
His rapport with teens has even earned him a nickname in Ontario, where he travels and works extensively, including with teenagers in jail.
"They jokingly refer to me as the teen whisperer because I'm able to get kids that don't talk to anybody at all to open up and tell us what's going on," de Groot says.
The seminar will run from 6:30* to 9 p.m. at the Letkemann Theatre, says Jennifer Whalen of the Northern Regional Health Authority, who is helping to organize the event as a member of the HOPE North - Regional Suicide Prevention Committee, which works in partnership with the School Division of Mystery Lake to promote life through positive relationships for children and youth.
"There is no cost for participants to attend - it is free," says Whalen and registration is not required - just show up ready to learn.
"Nobody will come to that seminar without learning something about themselves or about their situation and that's the goal," says de Groot, who will spend most of Sept. 5 in a workshop with local teachers. " One of the things I offer every city that I travel to now is if I'm going to do a day-long workshop and I'm staying overnight, I offer something for the community. It's kind of like my giving back, so to speak, to my community so that's why I'm doing it in Thompson. A lot of my colleagues will go and do a one-day workshop with teachers and then hit the plane or sit in a hotel, have a glass of wine. I like to get out and make a contribution to the community and not just Thompson, Thompson's close to my heart but I do it in every city including when I was in Australia a couple of months ago. I did about 40 hours of free community service while I was over there."
De Groot says five words are key for every parent or caregiver who wants to improve their relationships with the children and youth in their lives.
"Get to know your child," he says. "Five words. Get to know your child. Right, a lot of people think they know their children. A big barrier is being far apart in terms of understanding their youth. Getting to know them, getting to know their needs and their goals, because teenage years is a very challenging time, right, there's a lot of conflict, there's a lot of stress. That's the time [parents] need to be the closest with their kids but it's actually the time where they're farthest apart."
De Groot says he offers money-back guarantees for the workshops he offers through his business - a guarantee he has yet to make use of in over nine years.
As for the motivation for offering his expertise free-of-charge, de Groot says it comes from a desire to make the world a better place.
"My brother Dave and I talked about doing it together. He was a principal of a high school and he believed in giving kids second chance and you know we see the same thing that way and basically, yeah, we just wanted to start a charity kind of initiative where it's training and seminars and resources and things like that to help not just children but the people who care for them to get to better," he explains.
When his brother died as a result of an undiagnosed heart condition, de Groot was left to carry on by himself.
"It's one of those cheesy, bleeding-heart things but it really is to inspire a better world," says de Groot. "It's to do something every day that makes a difference in the lives of other people. That's what I thrive on. I get depressed if three days go by and I don't make a positive difference in somebody's life."
*Note: Starting time corrected to 6:30 p.m. from 7 p.m. in the original article.