Anyone who is a parent knows it is the most rewarding role in our lives. What about the parts that are hard, tricky, confusing and make you want to pull your own hair out? Add a child who expresses herself more intensely or whose independence is a major strong point of her character into the mix and you have a ride for your money. Whatever the diagnosis may or may not be, traditional parenting does not fit the bill that may be effective with some other children. You may at times feel some pretty intense or subtle shame (who doesn’t with parenting) that creeps up in nasty little ways. Visit some Brene Brown resources and she can tell you the ins and outs of how shame can be a number one joy killer. Maybe your child’s intense reactions spark your own, causing a little emotional tornado in your home. Particularly during transitions can the shenanigans begin, and oh, those are extra fun! Add easily distracted and unable to complete tasks very well to the mix and bam, now there are mixed emotions of parenting frustration, fear, anxiety, and our favorite friend again, shame for both child and parent.
You are not to blame. Your child is not to blame. No one is to blame. We all have different journeys, which is the reason it is so harmful and counterproductive to compare ourselves to others even though we all do it to some extent. It is important to remind ourselves that everyone is doing the best they can around something that is actually a strong positive trait, but tricky and confusing to work with all in the same. Please read this carefully, because others see traits as negative in your child, you don’t have to. How you see your child and his or her behaviors will determine how you respond to your child.
Example, you see your child’s intense responses as difficult, too challenging, being a pain, defying just to control. Your responses will be out of more frustration, anger, maybe more of your own need to control. Then….more intense reactions, meltdowns, upset, shame and more of what you don’t want. Trust me, I have been there as a parent. Instead, you learn how to see your child as having positive strong traits and energy that needs to be channeled in a different direction to succeed. Maybe your child’s behaviors are out of anxiety, not defiance (please note, if your child has a history of trauma, therapy is highly recommended with a special parenting approach using a trauma lens).
You will be able to respond from a more helpful place when given tools that can transform the negative patterns. It could be easier (sometimes at the least) to implement helpful tools because your perception of your child’s behavior is more accurate and helpful. This does not mean you will never feel frustrated or angry with your child’s behavior. Unless you are superhuman, that is. You will, however, be able to respond more often in a way that becomes a catalyst for positive change.
Just because behavior in a child changes, does not mean the method of getting there isn’t harmful to their spirits. Parenting responses that also meet the emotional needs of your child can strengthen your child’s self worth as the bond between you strengthens. Behavior changes more from a place of connection as Howard Glasser, John Gottman, and Dan Siegel refer to in their books mentioned below.
How Knowledge and Therapy Combined Can Help
Very helpful and recommended books (also audio versions and online videos/trainings available) to start with include Transforming the Difficult Child, by Howard Glasser, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, by Dr. John Gottman and Parenting from the Inside Out, by Dr. Dan Siegel. Books from Gottman and Siegel also help parents dive into their own childhood experiences that link to how they parent in present day. These three authors inform the approaches that I personally combine in family therapy and parenting support. You can read helpful approaches and techniques to implement with your child while learning how to see your child through a more helpful lens.
Therapy can also provide parenting guidance. It can help your child express, understand and process their feelings through play and exploration of limiting self beliefs. In addition, it will be helpful and necessary to learn emotion management skills with both the child and parents through mindfulness exercises. Your child may have experiences that require healing in order for behaviors or symptoms to change. Therapy can also help parents understand the needs their child has that the child didn’t know how to communicate prior to therapy. Parents can tease out their fears and concerns and receive support in seeing how well they are loving their child to reduce their own shame. Parents may also need help in finding creative ways to implement new tools to keep it as simple as possible around their unique schedules and family dynamic.
A first step for you may be contacting a therapist who specializes in working with children or teens and families, or you may prefer to start with a helpful parenting book. You may be thinking, “um, no thank you to a book who has time for that!” I totally get that, trust me. A parenting support group on social media or parenting workshop in the community or online may be an extremely helpful option that is a better fit. Either way, a first step in a helpful direction is what matters, whatever that may look like in your personal journey as a parent. You have the power to get the support you and your child are worth getting.