I opened my mouth and out came the parent I never wanted to be!

I was so angry, fuming! Close to losing the plot completely. I opened my mouth and out she came, the parent I did not want to be. I screamed and ranted, threatened and had to use all my will power not to pick him up and give him a good smack. I found myself reaching over to him and at that very moment I caught sight of the look in his eyes, it wasn’t defiance, it was fear. He was scared of me! The anger drained out of me and regret set in. I never wanted my child to look at me that way, but there we stood, me a grown adult facing down with a toddler over a car seat. I dropped my arm and went down on my knees, my face filled with sorrow, regret and probably my own fear reflected. I was scared that I had reached the point of no-return.

That this was the moment the trust finally was blown to smithereens, but thankfully it wasn’t. I apologised for my reaction and for losing control. After a few minutes of hugging it out and mending our broken hearts, he got in the car seat and off we went. We have had a few more moments like this since then, moments where the parent I don’t want to be, suddenly slips out of my mouth. It happens and it happens because my focus is on the wrong goal.

We often have moments in parenting where we are the opposite of who we want to be. We often as parents have regrets of how we handled a situation. We see the mistakes our parents made and the mistakes others made and we vow not to make those same mistakes. Then in a blink of built up frustration, exhaustion and loss of control, we become what we vowed we will never be. Why does this happen? Why can we not break this cycle?

It all lies within the triggers of our own pain (experiences) and where our focus is.

The pain, is the things we were taught while growing up. The way we were raised to see the role and place of a child in society. Most parents were raised in the belief that kids are ‘lesser than’, that kids are the property of their family. Children are expected to jump at every command, because “well mother/father knows best”. Their identity is shaped by how well they fit into the family, they are expected to adjust and deal and understand far beyond their years and even beyond what is ever expected of adults when they have to accommodate themselves. The “do as I say and not do as I do”, mantra echoed through many a childhood, and here we stand as a result. Looking at our own children, clambering for control over them and struggling to see past the boundary between humans and objects to find an almost blind obedience.

So often it is stated that before having kids, “you may as well talk to the wall”, that is the best way to get used to being blatantly ignored. Ironically they are not ignoring you, they are distracted and probably not really even hearing you in the first place.

Oh, but then what about when they are looking into your eyes and not doing as was told. Surely that must be blatant disobedience, tendering for punishment. Blatant disobedience has to be punished right? Not at all. Before you stop reading, please, indulge me for a few more paragraphs.

Blatant disobedience is a sign that your kid is feeling insecure. Yes, you read that right. They are feeling insecure, and disconnected. They are trying to see if you actually, really care. Contrary to popular belief, they are not testing your resolve, they are measuring your level of care. If you explode and punish, they will be scared of you and not feel connected, actually quite the opposite. Punishment is experienced and interpreted by the brain as an attack, thus they go into fight, flight or freeze, or otherwise stated survival mode. The physiological reactions here actually close the ear canal as it shuts down their brain. So no, they learn nothing except fear and disconnection from the whole ordeal. Blatant disobedience is a cry for connection that has been missing in action for a while.

How do we parent it without punishment? Will they then learn that they can do what they want and never face the consequences of their actions? Not at all. We can parent blatant disobedience with connection. A person who feels connected will be open for correction.

Here lies the challenge for us as parents. It has to come from us. We have to parent ourselves first and we have to work on our own expectations and perceptions.

  • We expect our children to respond immediately when we address them – yet we don’t respond immediately when they talk.
  • We want our children to listen attentively when we ask them something – yet often we have glazed over eyes or tell them to hurry up when they engage us.
  • We expect our children to be honest – yet we love telling them little “white” lies because we feel out of our depth engaging with them.
  • We want our kids to answer us immediately – yet we need time to think and process and expect them to give us that space.
  • We expect our children to respect our time and what we are busy with – yet we make plans without their input and expect them to drop everything immediately and do what we want them to do on our own timeline.

We cannot expect our children to do life differently than us, they model what they see, hear and experience. They do not exist in a vacuum of orders, commands and jumping through hoops. They think, breathe, work, listen, play, do and watch everything we do, they have to, because that is how they survive life.

The reality of these moments, especially blatant disobedience, is that they feel invisible to their parents. They feel like they do not matter and as though they have lost a part of their humanity in the process. Blatant disobedience is a child asking if you still care. Do you still see them? Do they still matter?

When our children do not respond the way we want them to, we lose ‘control’. We experience that loss of control in a defensive way. We feel they are the adversary and we are being attacked, questioned and downright disrespected. We believe that we are in crisis, so we respond as such. We shout and scream, we dole out punishments and make idle, unrealistic and shaming threats. We become the parent we never wanted to be. We think the control we lost was over our child, but that is not the reality. Firstly because children are not objects to be controlled, you will never have control over a person. Secondly the control we lost, was the control over our own emotions and rational thoughts. We were raised to believe that adults control children and when we cannot control our own children, we feel like we have failed and that spins us into even further into the downward spiral. This is the pain of our own childhoods that rears its ugly head.

Our focus. In life when we focus intently on something that is where we will end up. Any biker will tell you that when you go through a bend on the road, you do not look at the bend, but instead you look at the end of the bend while leaning into the turn. Why? Because you will go where you look. So looking straight into the bend guarantees an accident. In the same way, when we start focussing so much on who we don’t want to be as a parent, we accidentally become that parent.

Where we invest our energy is where the output will come from. If we focus on who we do not want to be, we will become that person, because we are not investing energy and time into the person we do not want to be. The irony of this is, that if we focus so much on who we don’t want to be, we struggle to bounce back and move past the mistakes we made. That mistake starts to look like a mountain and this makes us feel even more ashamed and scared. This fear then becomes the driving force within your relationship with your child. This is when you start to fear every tear your child will shed when they do not get what they want. This fear will drive you to become a permissive and extremely punitive parent, because you will start to feel abused by your child’s behaviour and responsiveness to your input into their lives.

Parenting with the focus on who you want to be as a parent, opens you up to invite your child in. It opens up how we look at our children’s behaviour, it becomes easier to ‘read between the lines’ and respond in the way that matters to them. It opens us up to respond with connection first and correction second. It creates opportunities for us to have WOW moments with our kids. Most of all, it opens up the door for us as parents to break the generational cycle of guilt, shame, fear and punishment.

In Course 1 we spend time on how we were raised to view the role and place of a child and how to heal that. Contact us for more information regarding this course.

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Trust is developed not earned

One of the more difficult concepts when raising children is the concept of trusting our children. It doesn’t really come easy, does it? We’ve had to do everything for our children from infancy, we had to trust our own judgement and we all know how under developed a child’s ability to think rationally is. We have all done the “Have you brushed your teeth? Come here let me check” mantra. We have to do it, because they are still learning, easily distracted and some kids just really hate doing certain tasks, like brushing teeth. So we as parents have to check them.

Photo credit: Kwhame Photography

The problem is, that our children start with a deficit of trust from parents, at least that is how they experience and view it. We do not take them at their word from the get go. I am fully aware that there is the belief that trust is earned and not just given, and we want our children to earn our trust. Well what if today we challenged that belief? What if from today you give trust to your child from the get go? No, I am not saying don’t check up on things as they learn how to do certain tasks, what I am saying is, always give them the benefit of trust until proven otherwise.

“Oh, but that is not how life works.” I hear you say. However it is how life works in reality. Think about it in these adult terms: You are looking for a job. You send your CV to a company. The person who reads your CV has to trust that what you wrote on your CV is in fact correct. For them to actually want to do a check on your qualifications and experience, they first had to trust the information you gave them. They do the checks – well some do, some don’t, you never know – if you were truthful, the checks will confirm their trust in the information you gave them is correct. Now you finally earned some more trust. However it started with you trusting that they will look at your CV and them trusting the information given. That small step of trust sets the foundation to earn further trust.

Trust is usually shown in the small things we do. If we feel the need to check up on our children to see if they followed through on something then either we thrust responsibility upon them before they were ready, or, we have unresolved trust issues of our own. Yes, I said it!

The last mentioned, heralds the need for deep introspection, it goes to how you were raised. Did your parents patiently show through how they treated you that they trust you or was your childhood littered with phrases like, “Let me check” or “Ï trust you, but not your friends or the outside world”. The problem with these phrases, as innocent as they may seem, is it always reflects back to the idea that you are not trustworthy and the mistakes you have made count against you. “Let me check” says: I do not take you by your word, you have let me down before, so why should I believe you now? I don’t trust your ability to be honest, thorough or capable. I know, when they are young, they experiment with lies and boundaries, and it never stops until the day we die. I also know they need support while spreading their wings, developing their independence and decision making skills. Starting from the foundation of trust, it is easier to guide them and help them manage the journey.

“I trust you, but…” the ‘but’ nullifies the trust and the belief that you are trusted. If you don’t trust my friends, then you don’t trust my ability to make valuable friends and build positive relationships. If you don’t trust the world, then you don’t trust that I will be able to care for myself in this world. That means you feel I cannot be trusted to make good choices when you are not around. This typically happens in the teenage years. Yes, I know, we don’t really trust the world or that weird friend our kid brought home. Our child’s ability to make good choices is not fully developed yet, so of course the trust is difficult.

They are our kids and we mean well. We want to set them up for success. How do we encourage independence, honesty and good decision making, if we do not set up boundaries and check up on them?

Trust, like connection works with a bank account. When baby is born, we don’t need to earn their trust. They trust implicitly that we will meet their needs. They trust us to listen to them and protect them and love them. We trust them too, to let us know when they need something, whether by cooing, looking at us, making small gestures or even crying. The relationship starts with trust.

In infancy our relationship with our children either deposits trust into the account or withdraws trust from the trust account. Every time baby signals their need and we respond, it deposits not just connection but trust into the bank. When we miss a cue, we withdraw from both accounts. In infancy, a healthy relationship between parent and child creates a positive relational bank account in connection and trust.

After infancy, we withdraw often from this bank account. When baby starts to walk and explore, but instead of trusting them to be able to learn how to trust their own body, we keep telling them how to do it. We keep on stepping in and thereby interfering in the learning curve. The more we helicopter their movements – I am not saying let them tumble down head first down a flight of stairs – the more we create a deficit in the bank of trust. There is a difference between standing close by and waiting to catch them when they fall, and providing supportive commentary like “I see your hands need a place to hold onto” and holding on to their bodies as they try to manage climbing down the stairs. In the first scenario, we trust that they will find a safe way to climb the stairs, while we show them they can trust us to catch them if they stumble or fall. But with the second scenario we hinder them learning to trust their own bodies and skills. Do they fall and get hurt, yes they do, however allowing them to fall and get hurt their brain learns how their bodies feel when off balance. They learn to trust themselves.

At certain ages we hand over specific reigns of responsibility to our children. We stop brushing their teeth and they start doing it themselves. We stop feeding them and they start feeding themselves. There is still a learning curve involved here. Yes, you have been brushing your child’s teeth for 2 years, we would hope they have learned by now how to do it properly. They did not! They learn through doing. For the next two to three years, brush teeth side by side, prompting the next place or step in the routine. Eventually, you will brush side by side and you will see them brushing every tooth the way they learned how to. Now you can slowly extract yourself from their tooth brushing process. You remind them that it is time to brush teeth and send them off to do so. How do you know if they did it? Initially you can walk with them to the bathroom and see them off at the sink. Over time, you see them off at the door and finally you reach the point where you don’t walk with them. It is a gradual process and you can follow your child’s lead, they will show you and tell you to let them be, when they are ready. Never ask them to show you if they brushed their teeth. You will soon enough discover if they did not. That goodbye hug or kiss will tell you if they did not. Don’t scold them when you smell the stinky breath. Just hug and whisper, “I can smell your teeth are not brushed, quickly go and do it please.” and leave it there. If there is no time or the situation does not allow for going back and brushing, when they are younger than 8, have some breath freshener with you, just to help them out until there is time to brush teeth. If they are older, natural consequences is the way to go.

Brushing teeth is just a small example of how to maintain and build on the trust relationship. We need to apply this to all things they do, learn and have a responsibility for.

Steps for checking whilst keeping the trust relationship in the positive:

1 – Do it for the child

2 – Let the child do it with you

3 – Slowly step aside and give them space to do it on their own

4 – Be their back up, remember they are still learning this thing called responsibility – You are always a team

5 – Ask if they did what they needed to do, believe their answers

6 – If they did not do what they needed to do, and it isn’t life threatening, let them live out the consequences of their actions

7 – NEVER SAY – Let me check.

8 – If they have not taken proper responsibility for something go back one step and support them without condemnation i.e. let’s brush our teeth together today. That way you give them support without stating that you don’t trust them.

There is no incentive for a child to be honest if we constantly check up on them after they have stated that they have completed a task. There is only incentive for honesty if they get positive reinforcement and support when they make mistakes. Protecting our children from the consequences of their choices and actions while they are still learning responsibility, teaches them nothing. Punishing them for not doing what they said they did, will just increase the likelihood that they will rather do it behind our backs and develop better skills at being sneaky.

You can have a conversation about honesty and trust with your child. Have these conversations when you are calm and not angry. You can say things like “I am feeling disappointed that you did not brush your teeth like you said you did. Honesty and trust is important for us to be able to function as a family. I want to be able to trust you. So let us find a solution together to get your teeth brushed in the morning.”

This invites your child into a conversation and it will be a clear indicator of whether you have thrust a responsibility onto your child, before they were ready to bear it. Remember, each child is different and even though there are all these guidelines of at what age a child ‘should’ be able to take proper responsibility for a task, not every child will be ready at that age and your child is not failing if they need support for a little bit longer than others.

C3 Parenting believes in setting parents and children up for success. We offer parenting courses and workshops. Click here to find out more

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