Group Gordon’s Lana Gersten reflects on PR skills that translate to parenting – and vice versa!
Parenting a three-year-old and an almost one-year-old is challenging at any time. When you throw in a global pandemic, the challenges grow exponentially. I frequently ask for and take advice from my tribe of parent friends for matters big and small. But I’ve come to realize that my 12 years in PR is actually great training for being a parent.
Here are a few things I learned:
Setting the right expectations is one of the most important ways to position my team for success. Expectation setting is crucial for getting on the same page about goals with a new client, and the same is true for our everyday work. If I know an op-ed has zero chance of getting published in the New York Times, everyone is better served when I’m honest about it.
Same goes for my kids. My three-year-old knows that Friday and Saturday nights are dessert nights in our house. Setting that expectation up front makes it less likely that he’ll ask (repeatedly) for a cookie on a random Tuesday.
PR pros are trained to help clients deal with and defuse crises big and small. Having a plan in place is critical to being able to respond quickly, calmly, and effectively. Crafting a response that is genuine and concrete – one that acknowledges the harm, explains how it happened, and articulates the steps being taken to fix it – will resonate more with customers and the public.
Getting ahead of everyday toddler crises (AKA temper tantrums) starts by having a plan of action and very clearly communicating it (toddlers hate surprises). If I tell my son on our walk home from the park that we’re going to wash our hands when we get home, a reminder that has become even more important during the pandemic, the chances of him actually washing his hands without a fuss are greater.
Small kids have big feelings. Acknowledging and validating them goes a long way. If something happens that is out of their control, very young children like mine need simple, concrete explanations of what happened, why, and how we’ll prevent it from happening again.
Every good communications program is guided by a thoughtful communications plan. But when something comes up – or life throws you a pandemic – even the best laid plans can get thrown off course. The key is to be able to shift quickly and capitalize on opportunities.
When Covid first hit and daycares closed, my husband and I needed a new plan, so we sprang into action to split up work and childcare duties: I worked in the early mornings while he was on childcare duty, we switched around 9am until naptime, and switched back in the afternoons. It wasn’t ideal but being able to change course quickly was the only way we survived those incredibly challenging months last spring.
Anyone who works in PR has dealt with a tyrant or two. Managing stubborn, hard-headed, and insensitive adults takes a big dose of emotional energy and a good amount of tact – and is perfect training for dealing with a strong-willed three-year-old.
Rule #1: Validate feelings. If my son hits his sister, I can validate that he’s feeling frustrated or angry without validating his action: “I can see how angry you are right now. Your sister took your toy and it makes sense that you’re feeling this way.”
Rule #2: Stay calm. If I want my kids to be calm, the first step is to stay calm myself. Matching a scream with a scream will only make the situation worse.
Rule #3: Don’t take it personally. When my son came home the other day and declared he wanted a hug from daddy, not me, sure, my feelings were hurt. But I didn’t take it personally. Because it’s not about me. It’s about him and what he needed in that moment.
Of course, there’s much more to parenting than this. And we’re all lucky if a tantrum is the only crisis we face in those early years. But having the right mindset, approach, communication skills, and attitude – tools my career in PR has given me – are key in the journey.