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As a part of our series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeanette Hargreaves, M.Div.
Jeanette Hargreaves, M.Div., is the founder of Temper Coaching. She helps people who want to stop hitting and yelling at their children through classes and public speaking. Her first parenting book is called, The Day I Threw Banana Bread and Almost Went to Jail: True Stories About How I Used to Lose My Temper (and How I Learned to Stop).
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
It’s painful to admit, but I used to hit my kids and spank them when they were small. It’s how I was raised. I thought it was how we were supposed to raise respectful children. But it didn’t feel right to me. It kept me up at night, wanting to do things differently. So, I got help. Now I help others.
Looking back, I know I was doing the best I could, and my dad was too, and his father before him. Those were the tools we had, and all we knew. When I think about it now, I can see how nonsensical it is, to try to teach someone (anyone) respect by hitting them. Spanking is hitting.
It’s like telling your kid that it’s not ok to hurt people, and you hit them as punishment. You’re not teaching them that hitting is bad. After all, you’re the adult and you’re setting an example. You’re really teaching them that hitting is ok, so they might end up being an adult who is hit regularly, or an adult who hurts others. You’re also teaching them to be afraid of you.
I don’t want my kids to be afraid of me. I want respect from them, true respect, and the only way I can get that is if I show them how to do it, how to be respectful, by giving them respect. This isn’t friendship — it’s treating them like a person, a young person whose brain is developing. As an adult, it’s my job to set an example for them, to teach through modeling.
That’s true discipline. Discipline doesn’t mean to punish. It doesn’t mean to hit, shame, guilt, hurt, or take away something the child loves. Discipline means to teach, to model. This is what our children really need. I just had a LOT of catching up to do, because what I learned as a kid, I no longer wanted to pass on to my kids (and my grandkids one day).
I’m still growing and learning every day. I haven’t hit my kids for years now, and I don’t lose my temper and yell anymore either. But I’m still mean sometimes. I’m human. I get tired like the rest of us. But we talk about it. The kids know my journey, and I pray that they’ll be able to grow into adulthood without the wayward thinking that hitting is helpful.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
While teaching a class, a parent asked me, “But Jeanette, what about the Bible verse where Jesus tells us to spank our children?”
Let’s be clear: Jesus never said that. Never.
However, there are some priests and preachers who teach their congregations they must hit their children. Some of them believe they must hit children for the sake of the child’s salvation. (It’s true.)
I have my Master’s in Divinity, so I decided to do some research about this. Here’s what I learned.
Warning: I’m going to talk a lot about the Bible for this question. Why? Because the Bible’s been used as an excuse to hit kids.
The belief comes from some verses in the Hebrew Bible in the book of Proverbs. You may recognize one summarized as, “Spare the rod, spoil the child” (Proverbs 13:24). If you do a deep dive into the Bible study of these verses, there’s many interesting facts. The rod that is referred to here is the Shepherd’s rod. Children are meant to be “shepherded,” (not hit). And the “children” these verses refer to are older kids, like age 12.
But that’s beside the point, because it’s Christians who have interpreted this to mean that we must hit our children. I’ve met people who’ve been hit by literal “rods.” There’s one Christian parenting book that encourages parents to display the “rod” as a reminder to children. I also met a man who was paddled by his Christian teacher while the teacher cried (because the teacher didn’t want to hit the child, but thought he must).
Samuel Martin, Biblical scholar, has written extensively on this topic. He’s met many mothers who felt that the teaching was wrong, but were afraid to say anything.
These Bible verses are from the Hebrew Bible, the “Old Testament.” Christians don’t take their blueprint for living from the Old Testament. We take it from the New Testament, from the time of Jesus, of “Christ,” hence the title little “Christs,” or Christians.
Let’s take a look at the life of Jesus to see if we can get a blueprint for parenting. I’ll put together a timeline across multiple books of the Bible.
Before Jesus was born, his mother accepted him and his father rejected him. But then, his father had a dream and accepted Jesus (Matthew 1:18–24). Once Jesus was born, his dad had another dream that the baby was in danger, so he moved his family to Egypt (Matthew 2:13–15). So, Jesus’ parents accepted and protected him as a baby.
We don’t know much about Jesus as a child, but there was a time when he sort-of got in trouble. He went missing for three days while his parents searched for him. Mary and Joseph found Jesus hanging out in a temple with rabbis. Mom and dad didn’t hit or whip Jesus. Here’s what happened: Mary said, “We were tormented [looking for you].” Then Jesus went home and “obeyed his parents” (Luke 2:41–52).
So as a young child, his parents set an example for Jesus by continuing to protect him, and Mary even mentioned her feelings (which is rare in the Bible). This is a great blueprint for parenting, because you can talk about feelings and teach your children how to handle them in healthy ways (even anger). I believe Mary and Joseph did that.
As a rabbi, Jesus gave us many examples of how to treat children. He didn’t hit them. He blessed them. He laid his hands on them to pray with them. He said, “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:13–15).
When my children were little, I was often blind to their innocence. I thought that when they had a tantrum, they were being defiant. But really, they were just stressed, or unable to express their anger in a healthy way (just like me). Now when I’m around little kids, I think I see what Jesus saw. Children are much purer than most of us adults.
Jesus studied the book of Proverbs along with the rest of the Hebrew Bible. He read those verses about “sparing the rod,” and when he was asked to summarize all of it, he said to treat others the way you want to be treated, love God, love others, love yourself (Matthew 7:12, 22:34–40). Just love (John 13:34). (He didn’t tell us to hit children.)
Jesus told the story of the prodigal son, a young man who really screwed up. He spent all his money, became poor and did all kinds of things that could have brought shame to his family. But when he went home, that young man wasn’t punished. His father celebrated. His father was overjoyed that his boy had come home (Luke 15:11–32).
What if we treated our teens that way after they were out too late one night at a party? This isn’t about being permissive, but loving. Sure, we can do as Mary did, and talk about our feelings, that we worry, that we care. We can problem solve and work with our teens to create a home where everyone feels safe, Mom, Dad, brother, sister, and the teen. A place where love and kindness are at the center. A place where the teen is kind to the parents, too (on good days).
Jesus expressed extreme anger a couple of times. One time, he cursed a fig tree because it had no figs, and that poor fig tree never produced fruit again (Mark 11:12–21). What I see in this story is evidence of the power of words. The words of Jesus have power, and so do ours. When we speak with kindness, it produces fruit. When we speak mean words, especially to our children, it hinders their ability to be fruitful in life.
Jesus was mean to a woman once. She wanted to be healed and he called her a dog. She countered him by saying that even dogs get crumbs. Jesus changed his mind and the woman was healed (Matthew 15:21–28).
I have to do that regularly with my kids. I’m mean, and then I apologize, I change my mind.
Very simply, this is what I teach families to do. To notice when they’re unkind and make a different choice instead.
Finally, all of this made me think about the time that Jesus came upon a group about to stone a woman. He turned to the crowd and said, “Let him who is without sin throw the first stone.” The crowd dropped their stones and left, saving the woman (John 8:1–11).
I wonder what Jesus would say to a mother holding a wooden spoon about to hit her own child? I won’t answer the question. Put yourself in that moment and imagine.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I thought success would be quick. Ha!
Here’s what I learned: to launch my own program, I had to interact with many people and make many adjustments. I taught. I watched my students. I listened. I studied. I slept. I made adjustments. Over and over.
I needed to learn the mutual language we could use to communicate. There are so many ways to think about the world: spiritually, scientifically, philosophically. I had to figure out where my audience and I met. I’m obviously spiritual, but on a practical level with some evidence-based research thrown in. Once I found a way that I’m able to describe what I do (and the audience that could hear me), that’s when things started to click.
Quite a few people I’ve met who have their own successful programs began to really see success around year 7. I’m in year 5, and things are getting easier. It takes discipline and focus to keep going. If you’re reading this and are starting your own wellness endeavor, keep going with courage and humility and you’ll get there.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Jenny Shih is a business coach. I hired her around year two. She’s the one who helped me really see the language issue. Being a recent seminary graduate, when I first launched, I used a lot of academic language in my workshops. I needed to make some adjustments to reach the people I really wanted to reach. I love salt of the earth folks. Good, hardworking people who are building blocks in our communities, like teachers. A lot of the moms and dads I work with are teachers — they teach in schools or as leaders in organizations. We get along because I’m a teacher too, from a long line of teachers.
One exercise Jenny assigned was to think about my own life when I was struggling. What message would have gotten through to me back then? It took a lot of thought. I took my mind back in time. What came out is this: “I help moms who lose their temper.” I think my old self would have heard that and felt shocked, embarrassed, and intrigued all at the same time. I would have dived in to learn more. That’s what happens now when I’m out in public. Some people think I’m old news, but for the folks who need me, my work is essential. Some moms pull out their phones and order my book the moment they hear the title. That’s all thanks to Jenny!
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
The idea’s simple. Especially in the United States, there’s a lot of arguing among adults over just about every issue. A lot of fighting. I teach families how to communicate at home with their kids without hitting and without yelling. If we can learn how to communicate better at home, then we can practice it in our larger communities and solve some of our larger issues.
Instead of fighting, we can work on problem-solving . Just imagine if all the energy we spent thinking that others were wrong or bad, we spent on listening or learning or working together instead. That would be a huge energy shift in the right direction! Yes, the world has issues, but many of us are working on solving those issues, and they are getting solved, bit by bit, one day at a time.
If we can teach our children how to be helpful instead of hurtful, how to be good problem solvers, it will enable future generations to live more peacefully too.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
In the question you ask for lifestyle tweaks that will “support people’s journey towards better wellbeing.” The tweaks I’m talking about are small things we can do as individuals that will impact our own wellbeing, as well as the wellbeing of our families and communities. The more people make these adjustments, the more we’ll be able to get along as one big human family on the planet.
1. Stop hitting kids. Not everyone does it, but if you’re part of a house, a school, or a community that condones hitting, it’s time to stop. If you’re part of a law-making group, consider writing some laws around corporal punishment. According to End Violence Against Children, more than 2 in 3 children experience corporal punishment at the hands of their caregivers, and 86% of the world’s children aren’t protected from it by law.
In 2021, a school principal in Florida was caught on camera hitting a 6-year-old girl with a paddle while a teacher held her down. The girl’s mother was so frightened, she felt like she couldn’t stop it from happening, but she did pull out her phone and film it. As in Texas (where I’m from), caregivers in Florida have immunity for such actions.
The people I teach learn a whole new definition for discipline. Discipline doesn’t mean “to punish.” It’s rooted in the same word as “disciple,” which means to teach. As adults, it’s our job to model and teach our kids, to disciple them in behavior.
Some skeptics think that I’m talking about permissive parenting. It’s not permissive. In fact, it’s more strict than traditional punishment-based discipline. Here’s why: the entire household, including the adults, are held to a higher standard.
2. Practice self-care. If you’re a yeller, or someone who loses their temper, you’re probably a really great person. You probably put a lot of pressure on yourself to be great. But the part of you that yells doesn’t feel so great. That part of you feels unloved, unseen, unheard. So, to help that part of you, notice her and then practice self-care. Say to that unloved part of yourself, “Hey sweetheart, I see you. I got you. You’re safe, and it’s going to be ok.”
Self-care is soothing. There are different things that soothe people, but for a lot of us, going on a walk is nice. Music is calming. Snuggling is sweet. Even stomping your feet can be helpful, or indulging in a nice big cry.
There are numbing behaviors too that help you check out, like bingeing on a show or a big bowl of popcorn, or drinking an extra glass of wine. Numbing’s cool (and even fun sometimes), but if you’re doing a lot of it, there’s probably some underlying stress that needs to be addressed with soothing and self-care. (Stress is the real reason most people lose their temper.)
3. Learn emotional intelligence. I’ll give you my definition for emotional intelligence, which has a lot of aspects. First, it’s the ability to identify and feel your feelings in healthy, helpful ways. You can respond to all of your feelings in a healthy way, even anger, sadness, and stress.
I used to think that when someone got “angry,” it meant they yelled, or got upset. But I’ve learned that you can be angry and not get upset. In fact, anger has a whole lot of power you can channel to do great things (like be a helper when you notice something’s wrong).
You begin by naming your feelings. There are some feelings that are complex, like anger. Underneath anger, there’s often stress, sadness, and maybe worry. Then, figure out what your response is going to be. I teach people to uproot the values underneath a feeling (that’s your wisdom). When you have a big feeling, it means you care a lot about something. What do you care about? For example, someone who’s worried about getting sick means they value their health. To have a healthy response to the worry, you do things that are good for your health.
Second, you can learn to identify and respond to the feelings of others in healthy, helpful ways. For example, if someone you’re close with is stressed, there’s often no need for you to be stressed as well. In fact, if you can be calm, it can help them self-regulate (calm is contagious).
Third, learning to calm yourself when stressed is called self-regulation. You see upset kids do it when they snuggle with a blanket or suck their thumb. But adults can self-regulate as well (on good days). This skill is especially helpful in parenting, when children’s brains and bodies are developing. Being a kid can be confusing and stressful, and it helps to have a calm adult to co-regulate with. Just by finding your calm, you teach children through modeling how to do it.
Finally, sometimes, you can choose how you want to feel. For example, look at the way you’re dressed. You probably did an emotionally intelligent thing when you got dressed, because you chose how you wanted to feel today.
The blessing of emotional intelligence is that it’s something that can be learned. Practice doing it with your friends or family. Find a mentor who seems to be wise with their emotions. Notice times when you self-regulate, or choose how you want to feel. Focus on feeling your feelings in healthy ways for a few months and you’ll reap the benefits. You’ll be in better relationships with yourself and others!
4. Live by values. To live by your values, first, you need to know what they are. If you’d like a list of values, I have one available here. Talk about your values. Teach them to others. When you have values, it creates healthy boundaries with you and those around you. Many people agree on some basic values, like safety, security, and kindness. Beyond that, our values differ. In our families and communities, the challenge is to figure out how to live together with our shared and varying values.
When I first began talking about values with my family, I realized how important kindness is to me. I also realized that whenever I yelled or threatened the kids, I wasn’t living up to my values. Once I put kindness at the center of my parenting, everything shifted for the better. Boundaries became clear (including my own), and the whole household became more kind, with time.
5. Break the stress addiction. The stress addiction I’m talking about is the relationship news consumers have with news producers. I’m saying this as a former news producer. In America, the news is commercial, which means that news makes money according to views. I remember one news story we did about tap water in Austin, that the tap water was analyzed to be just fine, but the headline read, “Is your tap water POISONED?”
Take a look at the media outlet you use (if you use one). Notice if there are high-pressure or fear-generating language in the headlines. Notice how the headlines make you feel. If they make you feel enraged, scared, or rushed, it’s time to find a different news source. If you’d like evidence that things aren’t as bad as you think, read a book by a man who studied global human statistics for decades: Factfulness by Hans Rosling. The more news consumers switch our gaze to see headlines based on solutions (instead of just fear or rage), the more news producers will provide those stories, and amplify the good that is actually happening in the world.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I’m doing it, but I didn’t start the movement. And there are millions of us who are part of the movement. It’s the movement that says that it’s not ok to hit kids.
There are already 62 regions in the world where it’s illegal to hit a child. They don’t hit them at home or at school. It started with Sweden in 1979. The most recent regions to outlaw corporal punishment are the Republic of Korea and Colombia, as of 2021. I learned this information from one of the global organizations leading this movement, End Corporal Punishment. In November, I’m attending an affiliated conference called “Energizing No Hit Zones.” I’m proud that my hometown of Austin, Texas is hosting this conference. It’s needed.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
1. The heartache. When you work in wellness, it means you often work with people who are working on their wellness, but haven’t achieved their goals yet. I love the work I do. And it’s hard too. It’s so sad when I hear that a parent lost their cool and yelled again, or got out the wooden spoon… again. Some days, I just need to be sad. Then I get up and do it again.
2. “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” In other words, chill out. You can trust that the people you’re meant to work with will be able to hear you (as long as you’re lifting up your voice). You can also trust that when you’re ready to learn something, it will appear for you. When I was ready to learn about emotional intelligence, I did. This summer, when I was ready to learn about the global movement to end corporal punishment, I did. (And in both cases, I had no prior awareness of the existence of these concepts.)
It’s fun to think about this as a divine assignment. People have been assigned to you to learn from. And you have mentors and teachers you love. Now your “students” will not necessarily love your mentors (I’ve found this to be true). Knowing this brings a deep sense of peace. It takes the pressure out of the whole “wellness” situation. You don’t have to push your knowledge on people, and you don’t need to push them to learn. They’ll learn when they’re ready (and it might not be from you).
Besides, people learn better when they feel free, when they’re not under pressure. So, if there’s someone you’ve been “shoulding,” like, they “should” learn from me, stop the thought. Say a prayer for them, knowing that when the time is right, the right teacher will appear for them.
Unless, of course, it’s a dangerous situation. If someone’s in danger, an adult or a child, get help immediately.
3. “The rising tide lifts all ships.” Most likely, you’ll meet people who do the same thing you do. But keep in mind that your students are divinely assigned to you, and other experts have their students who are assigned to them. The more teachers, the better. It’s not a sign for you to quit. And it’s not a sign to squelch the other’s activity, either.
Whenever I meet another parenting expert, I thank God for them. We connect, and I lift up the work they do. It’s affirmation for me, and encouragement for others that this is good, important work. And I pray that if I’m not the right fit for someone, maybe another expert I know will be.
Someone once explained this to me like Chinese restaurants in American neighborhoods. Each neighborhood needs its Chinese restaurant (or two or three!). Everyone has their favorite, their go-to. So, open your business, your brand, and establish your clientele in your corner of the world.
The better we all are at working with children, the better off the world will be, for the next generation, and the one after that.
4. Even if someone shows interest, they might not be a good fit. There’s a certain chemistry in wellness coaching. After a while, you can tell when you’re supposed to work with someone (and when you’re not).
Encourage a potential client by telling them that they’re on their wellness journey, and they’ll be successful, whether they hire you or not (you’re not the only one who can help them — and if you believe that — you have more to learn). After all, what you really want is their success.
For clients who aren’t a good fit, have referrals, or connect with a group that can give you referrals. That way, you still will have served them (and they’ll remember how you helped them).
5. There are high-pressure sales and low-pressure sales in wellness. If you think about it, high-pressure and wellness aren’t a good match. There are people who want to teach you how to manipulate words and emotions just to make a sale. It’s toxic, and unnecessary. If you give it a try, you might find you end up with some clients who aren’t a good fit anyway.
How can you tell a high-pressure sales technique? The most notable emotion you’ll feel is urgency. If a sales situation makes you feel urgent (or you’re pressuring someone with urgency), walk away.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Mental health. The more people are self-regulated, the more we’ll be able to get along, in our families, and on the planet. Then, as a ripple effect, problem-solving will be easier, like environmental challenges. People are amazing. When we’re all working together, our world will be able to sustain ten billion people with ease, maybe. That’s one of my hopes.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Readers can follow me on Instagram or Facebook. They can also easily find me at TemperCoaching.com.
Thank you for these fantastic insights!
Thank you for inviting me to speak. This is the second time you’ve invited me (here’s the first). It’s a real honor.
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