If you have, you are not alone. Being a parent is much like being dropped into a foreign country without a guidebook and not speaking the language. We often believe, mistakenly one might add, that we know what to do all the time, what to say or even how to feel towards our children. And we incorrectly assume that because nature has given us the ability to have babies, we are naturally going to be successful at being a good parent. In fact, there is no correlation at all. Parenting is the most important job anyone will ever have yet there is no “how-to” manual; no degree or certificate that can prepare you for it. And because of this, I have yet to meet a parent who feels 100% satisfied in their parenting ability.
Unfortunately, because of this lack of parenting “education,” many parents rely on managing, fixing and controlling a child’s negative behaviour which only leads to escalating conflict and disconnect between the child and the parent. What many parents want is to feel close to their children, to look forward to spending time with them and to have their children want to share their lives with them. In order for these to happen and to feel like you are the parent you know you can be, you don’t need money, you don’t need to have registered your child in a slew of extra-curricular activities and you don’t need expensive vacations. What you need to be sure of is whether your child can answer the following questions: “Am I worthy?” “Do I matter?” “Am I heard?” and “Do you love me?”
For a child to be able to respond to these important questions with words, feelings and/or behaviours, there are three actions a parent can take:
The first is to accept the AS-IS. Accept the child before you and not the child of your fantasies. Throw any of your dreams about who your child should be away and truly see who your unique child is. This can be a challenge for those of us who have dreamt that little Joey would be a sporty kid and is not; little Peter was going to be a musical prodigy like his dad but prefers to cook or little Chloe would love to dress up as a girl and have tea parties but all she wants to do is roll in a puddle of mud and climb trees. However, if you give your child the notion that you do not accept them for who they are by your tone of voice, reactions and words, they will feel shame and over time, they will come to understand that they have not been accepted for who they are. That they do not matter.
The second is to use your child’s emotions as a way to connect with them instead of punishing them. Big emotions in children can cause fear and panic in adults. This stems from how emotions were handled in the parents’ home when they were children. These parents do not know how to support their children during these moments because they were never taught and therefore, want these feelings to all go away. Unfortunately, making it all go away with either banishing a child to a “time-out” or saying platitudes such as “you’re fine,” “get over it,” and “it’s not a big deal,” will only leave the child to believe that their feelings are not validated. In the long term, the child will learn not to trust how they feel and will instead bury any negative feelings inside. These negative feelings can lead to lack of confidence and difficulty regulating emotions. Instead, parents need to understand their meta-emotions (meta-emotion is how you feel about an emotion) in order to handle being uncomfortable when their child is distressed. Instead choose to connect with your child by labeling his/her feelings, empathizing with your child about what has happened, and then set limits and help your child problem solve. If a child feels safe to express all and any emotion, the trust, love and bond you have with them will be all that much greater.
The third action parents can take is to turn towards their child. If your child wants to show you something, wants to tell you a joke, wants to hug you or wants to engage with you in some way, please turn your face and body towards them so they know you are present and listening. Take the time to find out what is going on in their world. Even if you did this part of the time (it is impossible to turn towards anyone all the time) your child will feel worthy, respected and loved. You are showing them that what they are interested in interests you as well. You may be surprised how much your child will continue to share with you even as they become older.
Just like each child is unique so is each parent. We as parents want our children to feel like they matter, like they are worthy, heard and loved. Nothing damages a child’s spirit more than when they feel like they are not what their parents wanted, that they cannot live up to the fantasy child of a parent’s dreams. Please, let’s all let go of the “shoulds” of parenting and step into the positivity of connecting. Turn towards your child, ask questions about their life, and accept all expressions of emotion in your home. Your child will thank you for it later.
Samantha Reynolds is the owner of Modern Child Parenting, turning parents into partners so their kids can thrive. She works with all kinds of parents and individuals virtually as well as in person. To get to know her better please check her out here: