Dr. Charles Sophy, FAMILY VALUES: Reset Trust, Boundaries, and Connection with Your Child

Dr. Charles Sophy, FAMILY VALUES: Reset Trust, Boundaries, and Connection with Your Child

Zibby speaks to renowned psychiatrist and Dr. Phil Show regular Dr. Charles Sophy about his clear and compassionate new parenting guide Family Values: Reset Trust, Boundaries, and Connection with Your Child. Dr. Sophy shares his best parenting advice, touching on preexisting parent “baggage”, (re)building a strong family foundation, knowing when to get professional help, and respecting children’s feelings. He also shares his own story, from growing up gay in a small Pennsylvanian coal mining town to becoming the adult he wished he could’ve spoken to. Finally, he talks about his friendship with Dr. Phil and the projects they have in the works!


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Dr. Sophy. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Family Values: Reset Trust, Boundaries, and Connection with Your Child.

Dr. Charles Sophy: Thank you for having me.

Zibby: It’s my pleasure. You are a total expert. Tell me what this book delivers that nobody else can deliver for parents who are out there.

Charles: This book delivers a simple way to take a look at you as a parent, your family as a whole, be able to find out, what are the strengths of your family? build a roadmap on those strengths to be able to get to the places where you need to get a little bit stronger. It’s a simple way to look at everybody as an individual and get to a better place as a whole and really build the value of a family that we’ve seemed to have lost over time.

Zibby: You have a whole section on dealing with our own baggage, which is very interesting. Of course, as parents and coparents and everything, we all enter into parenting with a whole set of preconceived experiences, notions, all of that. How do we navigate our own baggage? How do we optimize it for potential good things?

Charles: Like you just said, we all have preconceived notions, baggage, whatever. I don’t think anybody really takes the time to take a look at that baggage, those notions, and the parenting that they want to do. Then they’re also, probably in most cases, coparenting with somebody who has their own set of notions, baggage, etc. When nobody’s looking at any of that stuff, you’re coming together with unknown stuff, and then you’re being triggered by children. When you have a two-year-old, you’re going to be triggered in certain ways that are going to trigger things about you when you were two, whether you’re aware of it or not. The more you can do inventory of yourself, the better off it is. It sounds really cumbersome to say, take inventory and know yourself better as a parent before you parent. It’s a lot of work. I’m talking about just general things, to be able to know the things that really upset you. Most parents say, I already know those things, and I’m going to do the exact opposite of what my mother and father did. Guess what? That’s what leads you right back into doing what they did because you’re blind to it. Acknowledging it, understanding it, and really just seeing it will help you prevent from doing things that you don’t want to do.

Zibby: How can everybody in the family band together to have the same goal? In analyzing family systems and all of that — obviously, everybody wants the best for the kids, but how do you advise actually working through this tactically?

Charles: I think it starts with the parents, if there’s both parents there. They have to come to a place where they can agree on comingled strengths. List the strengths of each one of you as an individual parent and the strengths of each one of your children. Then see what the strengths of your family should be built upon. That’s the foundation. If you can agree upon that foundation of strengths between the two parents, then that’s what you present to your children to build upon. Then allow your children their own individuality of their strengths and stuff so that everybody has input. We all agree to disagree but come together at some point on strengths.

Zibby: Interesting. When I was at the event with Rebecca Raphael, somebody was asking a question about their children who couldn’t fall asleep. There was so much anxiety. People nicely suggested maybe it was time for that child to see an expert in the field and even potentially medication. How do you advise parents? After they’ve used up all of their own resources in terms of parenting, how do they know when it’s time to reach out to an expert, when it’s time to bring in reinforcements? How should parents think about that?

Charles: It’s always good to do whatever you think you know to do. You can talk to your coparent or whatever. There’s nothing wrong with asking your pediatrician or your doctor or somebody that you’re close to spiritually or whatever. Always get advice, but do what feels right to you. At a certain point when it’s starting to influence the rest of the family or the actual daily activities of that child because they’re not sleeping or it’s disrupting the house, then that’s a sign to you that there’s something deeper going on. Your child can’t fall asleep because they’re too anxious. They’re waking up throughout the night. They can’t separate from you, and they have to sleep in your bed with you. There are issues in that. Their behavior is telling you. Behavior is what speaks.

Zibby: If a kid is sleeping in bed with you every night, what should that tell you?

Charles: It should tell you either that you’re allowing it because you don’t want to be alone with your partner or it could tell you that your child has separation issues. The best way to get your child to feel good about themselves is, no matter how you can do it, carry them back to their bed even when they’re asleep so that they can wake up in their own bed and feel successful. They won’t know that they went there ten minutes before they woke up. They could be there all night. The feeling of waking up in success is the strength that you build upon.

Zibby: Interesting. How did you end up in this field?

Charles: I ended up in this field because — when I was in med school, I had a job at night. I wasn’t able to get to psychiatry class in the morning, and I didn’t pass because of my absences. I had to take it in the summer. I ended up loving it.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, that is so funny. Why this area? Psychiatry is so broad.

Charles: Because as I went through all the variations of rotations in general psychiatry, I really saw that a lot of the childhood stuff that I personally went through — I grew up in Pennsylvania. My dad was a coal miner. We didn’t have a whole lot. I struggled a lot. I’m also gay. I was gay in a small town with all that other stuff. It was not easy. I struggled. I saw that if I only had somebody to help or talk to, it would’ve made a huge difference. As I started to do child psychiatry — talking to a child makes such a huge difference. It changed their life. You could change a kid’s life one at a time. I wanted to try to do that.

Zibby: Wow, that’s beautiful. That’s really nice. Do you feel like there’s something in — let me rephrase this. I feel like there’s something even just in validating the feelings that kids have. It gives them such a sense of autonomy and feeling good about themselves and all of that. I feel like just being able to focus on the kids is so huge, even though a lot of them say they might not want to do it. How do you feel about that? Tell me an example of a child that you’ve been working with who came in feeling one way and left feeling another way and how that felt to you.

Charles: My biggest thing that I tell people all the time is we don’t respect childhood enough as adults. Children, they’re not without emotions and intuitions and feelings, and so they know when they’re not being respected. It doesn’t have to take a total violation for them to get it. They know when they’re not being treated well or they’re being slighted or disrespected. I think if we start at a place of respecting a child, that’s the best place to start. That’s what I do. If I have a child that comes in — I see a kid this week who comes in, doesn’t want to see me. I’m not there to tell them that their parents brought them in. What’s your problem? Why are you a problem? All that. I just say, tell me why you think you’re here. Tell me why you don’t want to be here. Then we talk about everything else but why they’re there, from music to school to their friends. It’s really about respecting them, letting them know that I’m just not placating them. I’m not trying to buy them and pull them in. I really am interested in who they hang out with, why they hang out with them, why they like that music, and just connect on technology and all that kind of stuff. That’s why the hipper I can be and connect with them, the better. It’s building that trust. It may take a month. It may take two months. I keep telling parents that’s money in the bank because when they do have an issue, they’re going to come right to me. Every single time, that’s what happens. Even years later, I have kids who are now graduating college and going into the workforce, and they still reach back to me, ask me advice. What do you think about this? I’m dating this girl. This is what happened. It’s that trust-building and respect that has to start.

Zibby: There are tons of psychiatrists out there, obviously, but not everybody ends up collaborating with Dr. Phil and all of that. How did that happen? How did you ascend to this level of visibility and all of that?

Charles: It’s honestly nothing that I strived for. Again, like psychiatry, I tripped into it. I think when you have a strength in something and you’re guided to something, you just follow it. I had been the medical director for DCFS, children services here in Los Angeles. He was struggling with his Britney Spears stuff. He had gone to see her. He had come out and talked about her a little bit. The media didn’t place that in a very good way in his light. He needed some support through that. He reached out to me — I don’t know why; I guess because I was the head of children services — and asked me for some advice. We became really good friends. Over eighteen years, we’ve been best of friends. It’s funny how things happen. He’s a great man.

Zibby: That is amazing. He wrote the forward, which is lovely. When did you decide to make this into a book?

Charles: About a year before the pandemic, we started talking about it because we were really bothered by the values of families that we were seeing on the show and that people were just losing sight of it. We were having mothers coming in of divorced families that their daughters were living half the time with them, and they were teaching them how to strip with them in the clubs at night, and fathers who were upset about it but had no power in it. A daughter was now caught in between these two house values. Stuff like that, or kids who were out on the streets, and parents didn’t care. They were giving up on their children. We were seeing just a crumbling of this foundation of values. Then the pandemic hit, and it got even worse. We decided to do something. That’s where he’s shifting next as he ends this part of his career. He’s starting another part, him and I. We’re going to start looking at values of families and being out in the field more and doing that kind of stuff.

Zibby: Wait, explain that a little bit more. That was very vague. Was that on purpose?

Charles: No, no, no. His show is done. His season ended. He’s going to do a primetime show. It’s going to be focused more on family values and how to rebuild family values and how the political scene is maybe eating away at them. People don’t realize they’re voting for people who are not really supporting the overall family values of our system and the things that are important. That’s the kind of stuff we’re going to focus.

Zibby: How do you deal with parents who have differing views, whether they’re divorced or married, on what they think they should do with the kids?

Charles: Again, it’s trying to help them both understand because a lot of their own stuff gets in the way. Either they have unresolved issues from their divorce or jealousy or anger or money issues. It’s about the best interest of their child. If they can both be brought to the table to make a decision that’s in the best interest of that child, then they’re seeing that they have to put themselves aside. What might be right for an angry mom or an angry dad is not going to be best for that child, so focusing on the best interest of a child, which is what we do in child welfare when we try to place a child. What is in the best interest of that child? Whether we take them out of that home or we support the parents to become better and stronger, but it’s always in the best interest of a child.

Zibby: Do you feel like in the process of helping all these other kids, in some way, you’ve healed yourself?

Charles: Absolutely, yes. I learn every day, more about myself and how to heal myself and the meaning of things. I value more about the parenting I did get instead of the parenting I thought I didn’t get. I see the value of love in different ways.

Zibby: That’s lovely. That’s so nice. Do you think that this will become some sort of series? Did you love writing a book? Is this your thing? Do you want to have tons more books now? Yes?

Charles: Yeah, I’m excited. I’m also going to do some primetime specials on family values and stuff. I’m going to do that. I’m going to start my podcast up again with different celebrities that we’re going to interview about their families and their family values so we could start to get it out there about how to build family values, how to shift them, how to strengthen them, and if you don’t have them, how to recognize them and build them.

Zibby: I was at some event once, and they had us go through and circle adjectives that describe our family or things that are really important to us and then put them up on the bulletin board, which I guess I did because I still have it there underneath fifty-seven schedules. I was like, what was that from again? I know that’s just one mechanism of getting everybody literally on the same page. What do you feel about exercises like that?

Charles: I think it’s wonderful because when people write things out and see them concretely, it really resonates better with them. It’s easy to say, I love my family. My family’s crazy, but I love them. When you really have to sit down and think about adjectives and ways to describe your family and the things that they do for you, feelings-wise, it’s impactful. You see it. You can keep it. As you see, you see it over and over again. It reinforces it. I think it’s very important.

Zibby: I live here in New York most of the time, also in LA. I’m opening a bookstore there this weekend, actually.

Charles: Where?

Zibby: It’s in Santa Monia on Montana and 11th, so if you need a book. I am also on the board of the Child Mind Institute here. Dr. Harold Koplewicz is the person to call when your kid is having a big issue. Are you the guy in LA?

Charles: Yes. We have a patient together.

Zibby: You do?

Charles: Yeah, because it’s a family that lives in both cities.

Zibby: People are often asking me for referrals when their children are having issues. There’s also so much shame a lot of the time around it. A quiet email. Don’t tell anyone. I’m so sorry to bother, but I have an issue. I’m like, it’s not a bother. It’s also debilitating when a child is going through something and you don’t know how to help them.

Charles: No matter how much a parent can or can’t love or doesn’t know how, they still love their child. I know that. They are devastated when they cannot help their child and they’re suffering in front of them. Yes, I know it’s shameful, but the stereotype has to be broken. That’s part of the message that I’d like to get out there.

Zibby: How do you scale all of this? I know, obviously, there’s the book and the show and everything. Do you do any sort of training for other people on the psychiatry side? Is there a special way that you run your practice that’s particularly effective that you can get out to communities where they don’t have a you or a Dr. Koplewicz or whoever?

Charles: I teach at UCLA in the psychiatry and child psychiatry programs, the training program. We get it out that way. Then we do community forums. Through DCFS, the child welfare system, we’d go to different communities around the LA region. We’d do them on a regular basis where we’d pull a community together and just lecture on something and then answer a ton of questions. We still do that, and then my podcast.

Zibby: Awesome. What is the most important thing? Let’s say there’s somebody just starting out. They really want to help kids. What’s the most important thing in being a child psychiatrist that the caregiver must have in treating children?

Charles: A better sense of themselves and where they came from and why they’re doing this. If they’re not doing it for the right reason, they’re not going to be effective. They miss the forest for the trees. Understanding them as best as they can is the best thing to do.

Zibby: Do you share your story with your patients ever? When I was a boy…blah, blah, blah?

Charles: I do sometimes with certain ones. Other ones, I don’t. When I need to, I do. Absolutely, or I share stories about me as a parent with my child, or with parents so they understand they’re not alone. We all share the pain.

Zibby: Wonderful. Dr. Sophy, thank you. Family Values: Reset Trust, Boundaries, and Connection with Your Child. I think the work you’re doing is really amazing. It’s a good thing that you missed the original class. Think of all the people who have been helped. It’s really wonderful.

Charles: Thank you. Have a safe trip to LA.

Zibby: Thank you. Take care.

Charles: Bye. You too.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

Dr. Charles Sophy, FAMILY VALUES: Reset Trust, Boundaries, and Connection with Your Child

FAMILY VALUES: Reset Trust, Boundaries, and Connection with Your Child by Dr. Charles Sophy

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