Careers in Motion: Judy Arnall, BA’88

Careers in Motion: Judy Arnall, BA’88

By Deb Cummings

In our series, Careers in Motion, we bring you interviews with alumni who are innovators, thought leaders and experts in their field. From entrepreneurs and financiers to people in the film industry, architecture and law, you will find illuminating insights from all-star professionals in this monthly slot in our newsletter.  

Seeing that March salutes Spring Break, we thought we’d check in with a parenting pro — Judy Arnall, BA’88, Calgary-based child development specialist and author of two books on non-punitive parenting. Besides penning Discipline Without Distress and Parenting with Patience, Arnall also teaches Continuing Education workshops and courses on parenting. She also has a daughter who recently graduated from UCalgary and a son who is currently attending.

How did you become a family educator, an author and a TV expert?

I never knew a job as a family educator existed until I had three children and joined a parenting playgroup called PACT that had facilitators leading the group. I really admired the facilitator and thought, ‘Gee, I want to do that.’ I took a Continuing Education course at the U of C on Family Life Education Values and Issues and received training in facilitation. At that point, I had just had a fourth child and so I brought him to all the classes as he was only three months old. Soon, I graduated from doing daytime group facilitation to evening parenting presentations for 50 to 300 people. I loved the field. In addition to speaking, I had read about 350 parenting books and thought I would write my own based on raising my kids with absolutely no punishments. Raising five teens without taking away a cellphone or removing the door from their rooms is quite a feat, and people wanted to know how I handled those kinds of sticky situations.

Careers in Motion: Judy Arnall, BA’88

What are three lessons you learned as a student at UCalgary that have stayed with you?

  1. Other people are scared and just as clueless as you feel.
  2. Always ask for help as mistakes are great for learning.
  3. Persistence is the key to success. 

What are the biggest areas of concern for parents who seek your help?

It depends on the age of the children. The biggest factors of concern for parents of babies is how to get them to sleep. For toddlers, it is tantrums, hitting and biting. For preschoolers, it is whining and defiance. For school-aged children, it is screen time and, for teenagers, it is motivating them to do well in school and gearing up for post-secondary admittance.


What are the biggest issues facing university students on campuses?

The biggest issues are balancing an academic workload as well as a social life. I think homesickness is hard, too, for first-year students. Stress can also trigger mental-health concerns such as depression and anxiety, so it’s key that everyone knows it’s OK to reach out for help. The typical first-year grade drop can be demoralizing when kids have done so well in high school and experience lower grades due to increased expectations.


What do you mean by “non-punitive parenting?”

Non-punitive parenting is raising kids without timeouts, taking away tech or privileges, no spanking or physical punishment, no grounding. What to do instead? For young kids, focus on redirection and child-proofing. For all older ages, teach them how to problem-solve.


Do you have any advice for wannabe authors or family educators? 

Realize that writing a book is a labour of love. I try to set aside an hour a day to write and it usually takes me a year to complete a book. It's like childbirth — the birthing is the easy part, however, raising a child is when it gets tough. Writing and publishing the book is the easy part. Whether you self-publish or find a traditional publishing house, marketing the book is the difficult part.


Do you have any career advice for university students?

Try anything. Don't be afraid to choose something that is wildly different but doesn't pay as much. Everything you do contributes to your resume in some way. And the experience you build up contributes to you as a person.


Have your children’s recent experiences at UCalgary differed from yours?

Yes, my daughter tells me that attendance is taken in some classes. Back in the 1980s, professors wouldn't care if you showed up. And, today, registration is a piece of cake. I remember lining up at MacKimmie Hall with a change-of-program form and a pencil and waiting until we got to the front of the line to see if the course would work in the schedule. Now the kids get to click on their screens to see if a class will work or not. We also had to go to the card catalogue in the library tower to do research; kids now can do it from home. We had paper textbooks and they have access codes. In fact, much of what is assigned today is in the D2L shell, [while] we got assignments on paper handouts. One thing that hasn't changed is that handwriting is still mandatory for assignments and tests. Growing up online has my kids writing in chicken scratch, where we wrote exams with beautiful script!


What are you doing at Spring Break?

Travelling to Japan to visit my son, who is there on a one-year work visa.


Do you have any tips for being a great parent?

  1. Don't project. Every few months, or a year, is a stage and your child will change, no matter what you do. Just because a child hits his little friend at age two, doesn't mean that he will be hitting at age 15. He will have much better executive function and self-control due to brain development.
  2. Self-care is essential, as well as time off.
  3. Balance tech time with people time. Model boundaries.
  4. Take your timeout first — calm yourself down, then get your child calm. That way, everyone can go about solving a problem in a level-headed way.
  5. Invest in board games — kids from ages two to 92 love them! Play them one night a week if you can, as it is a great way to stay connected to kids of all ages.

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