Anna Svetchnikov, Mrs. Massachusetts and a marriage and family therapist, has had countless parents come to her assuming that she will do the hard work in adjusting their child’s behavior while they take a parenting break. “They say, ‘Ok, my child is a monster child so here you go, you handle him and I’ll go do my own thing,’” she quoted. That isn’t how Svetchnikov does it.
In contrast to social workers who focus on the individual, marriage and family therapists who are trained to focus on family relations and the level of communication. “I’m looking for those dysfunctional patterns and I try to change them,” said Svetchnikov. She works directly with the parents to give them the tools to react appropriately to the behavior of their child.
Svetchnikov, 31, is the reigning Mrs. Massachusetts 2017. She was named in September, winning in competition with about 20 other women. Next she will compete in the nationals in Reno, Nevada, in June for the title of Mrs. United States. If she advances there, she’ll head to Africa for the Mrs. Universe contest in November 2017. A seasoned debutant, she is a former Miss Teen Massachusetts and Miss Teen Ukraine, but there is much more to her than her skills as a pageant beauty queen.
When she worked as a residential facility counselor helping young girls with eating disorders, Svetchnikov observed a pattern that most counselors failed to notice. “Girls come in for residential treatment, they do so much better so we send them home and then they come back within a month because they keep falling into the same destructive pattern,” she said.
When the girls return home to an unhealthy family environment they become stressed, which causes them to return to their destructive eating habits. “They get better, but the family traction is still there,” she explained, “so they relapse.” This epiphany led to aspirations that would later result in her becoming a marriage and family therapist and creating a non-profit organization based in Swampscott, Longwood Care, to help teach parents how to deal with their children’s behavioral problems.
After receiving her masters in marriage and family therapy from UMASS Boston, Svetchnikov worked with low-income families for three years. In her work with these families, she would again notice a similar pattern to her work with anorexic clients regarding children’s behaviors in relation to responses from the parents. “These parents need a toolbox,” said Svetchnikov.
Regardless of their age, whether they be in their twenties or sixties, they still struggle in responding appropriately to the behaviors of their kids, according to Svetchnikov, and they need to learn these tools in order to do so.
Her own experience as a mother of two boys, ages one and four, helps with her work as a professional. Her kids act as guinea pigs for experiments. “I’m trying all of these different approaches on them to see how it works,” said Svetchnikov. Along with her training and education, she often reads books and watches parenting videos for information and inspiration.
“After that I make my own theories and see which approaches work,” she added.
According to Svetchnikov, many clinicians who are trained as mental health counselors or social workers use different approaches, but don’t work with the parents directly. “A lot of clinicians don’t have their own kids and haven’t had parenting training, so it’s really hard for them,” said Svetchnikov. Though they help their clients deal with trauma, they don’t address parenting issues. She has also worked in large non-profit agencies that help kids, but she continues to strongly advocate for working with parents too. “That’s why I started my own non-profit,” said Svetchnikov.
The first initiative she launched through her non-profit, the Positive Parenting Initiative, works to enrich the lives of children and parents through education, support, and the formation and preservation of strong families. She is now releasing short videos, all under five minutes, on how to handle specific behaviors. “I’m a parent myself and I know how busy it can get with work, taking care of the kids and everyday life, you just don’t have a lot of time,” said Svetchnikov. For example, she addresses issues with toddlers, like how to decrease separation anxiety and how to handle tantrums in public places. She also has videos that offer ways to deal with teenagers.
In addition to the videos, she is creating a parent survival manual filled with quick tips. Parents can download the free book on her website, which includes behavioral charts, chore charts, and how to improve communication. Svetchnikov also offers parental support via email. Parents can email her questions and she will either respond with instructions or create a video for all parents to use. “My hope is to train clinicians and go to non-profits who work with families and kids and bring this training to them,” said Svetchnikov.
Along with running her non-profit, launching her Positive Parenting Initiative, competing in pageants, and raising two boys, Svetchnikov is also campaigning to support Toys for Tots, is active in the Lynn veterans community, and has made a number of appearances on television and radio. Indeed, there is much more to Svetchnikov than her looks.