Meet Caron Irwin, a Child Life Specialist, who helps parents through the challenges of raising young children.

Kind Human Club: Why did you launch Roo Parenting? Is there a story behind the name Roo?

Caron Irwin: I worked at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children for over a decade as a Child Life Specialist where I was responsible for the social and emotional wellbeing of the patients and their families. In my role, one of the things that I did was helped parents to parent their children through illness and their hospital experience. I was also a mama to two under two (which was a challenging time!) and I started to notice that many of the strategies I was suggesting for parents at SickKids were helping me at home with difficult stages and parenting moments. I loved learning more about how children think and develop and started using this information to help me relate better to my kids. My peers who were also in the parenting trenches would call me and ask for advice and I would be excited to help. I have also always had an entrepreneurial spirit so I decided to take my expertise and apply them in a different way and started Roo Parenting with the goal of helping parents navigate the ups and downs of parenting with quality advice that was practical and tangible. 

KHC: What is a Child Life Specialist?

C.I.: A Certified Child Life Specialist has expertise in child development, children’s reactions to trauma or challenging situations, and the importance of play.  Most Child Life Specialists work in pediatric health care environments and they are responsible for the social and emotional wellbeing of children and their families. They help prepare children and teach coping strategies for medical tests and procedures, explain illnesses and treatment plans in a developmentally appropriate way, support parents as they parent their child through illness and normalize the hospital environment creating opportunities for children to play and develop. 

KHC: Do you feel any extra pressure to be a "perfect" parent since you coach other parents?

C.I.: Not any more. I did in the early Roo Parenting days, but now I realize that my experiences as a parent helps me better support other parents. My kids are kids and I experience the same stages that the parents I support go through - epic meltdowns, not listening, disrespect, eye rolls – the list goes on. Sometimes I will deal with these moments well and other times I won’t. I think the most important thing for me is to reflect on is the different experiences I have with my kids and think about how I managed them and if there is something I could have done differently or better. This reflection helps me as a parent and helps me in the strategies and support that I share with others.

KHC: What are some of the most common issues that parents bring to you?

C.I.: Honestly, it is always different. I support parents with children between the ages of 0 to 12 years – so there is huge variety in the issues that parents reach out to me for.  In one day I could be talking about toddler tantrums, early morning wake ups, difficult daycare drop offs, schoolyard bullying, sibling rivalry and screen time. 

Caron Irwin and her children.

How have your kids adjusted to the new normal of pandemic life? 

C.I.: My kids have adjusted to pandemic life. There have been many ups and downs over the past 9 months. This week we are in an up phase and doing well. In the beginning they thought it was fun and novel to be at home with my husband and I. I also know that I was pulling out all the stops and had the stamina to make the experience fun and exciting. But come April when it started to set in that pandemic life and staying at home was going to be the norm, my kids hit a huge low, especially for my older 2. There was lots of explosive behaviour and tears and frustration. That was a very difficult time where I really had to rely on my SickKids experience and support them through their feelings, get creative with safe ways to socialize with their peers and help them look for the silver linings. This was a tough and emotionally draining time for me as well! But now that my kids are in school with their friends, they are happy and we are back on an up swing. 

KHC: Is there anything different parents should be doing in this strange year?

C.I.: Yes! Two things! 

→ Maintain as much consistency as possible! The day to day is full of unknowns and unpredictability. Having clear expectations and a consistent routine at home will help kids feel grounded and give them a sense of control. This will enable kids to cope and manage all the lack of control and uncertainty that the pandemic is throwing their way.

→ Connect with your children everyday.  This doesn’t have to be for a long time - just make it consistent. This could look like 5 to 10 minutes of one on one playtime where kids get to lead their parents through play. It could be a daily ritual, like family freeze dance, family dinners, joke or quote of the day. I think this time is so important to help children feel safe and connected to the ones they love. This time also creates a space where you can talk to your kids about the constantly changing COVID landscape we are living in and your kids know you are available each day to hear their thoughts, questions, worries and successes. 

    KHC: How do you make time to look after yourself when you're running a business and raising three kids. Do you have any self-care routines?

    C.I.: I do. It has been a priority of mine over the last year to take some simple time for myself. That is the key – make it simple so I actually do it! I wake up every morning at 6:15 and drink a hot coffee all by myself before my crew wakes. I go for a walk and chat with two of my girlfriends every Wednesday. And, every night before I fall a sleep I use my Halfmoon Lavender Eye Pillow – I lie still, breath in the lavender scent and list 3 great things in my head. 

    Caron Irwin and her children.

    How can we cultivate kindness in our kids?

    C.I.: Parents need to model it and start at a young age. Parents are their children’s greatest teachers – our kids are always watching and I believe that if we lead with kindness, our kids will do this too. Also, make it a priority. Talk about kindness in your home, read about it, celebrate it when you see it and comment when you don’t. 

    KHC: What is one thing that parents can do to create a happier family life?

    C.I.: Establish family rituals! These are simple activities that families can do with each other regularly to help establish and maintain a connection with one another. When kids feel emotionally connected to their parents they are more confident and happy, they show stronger communications skills, and are better able to cooperate and show less negative behaviours. Some favourite rituals that I share with my family are: Sunday pasta dinners, Thanksgiving Apple Cider Making and the joke of the day!

    Caron Irwin is the founder of Roo Parenting. She is a mother of three young children and a Certified Child Life Specialist. Roo Parenting is a consulting service that supports parents through unknowns and challenges of raising young children.

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