You know that awkward moment when you realize you made a parenting mistake? That moment when your action or body language sends all sorts of hurtful messages to your child?
I do. I’m quite familiar with it - the sinking feeling that captures the irreversible impact of wounding communication.
I’m human, and as a human, I make mistakes. You’re human too. Many people think they know they’re human, but when push comes to shove, they display tremendous resistance to accepting the limitations of our species.
When I first offer parenting sessions as an integral part of treatment for a child, it is often met with defensiveness. “You’re saying that our daughter’s behavior is our fault?”
I respond diplomatically: “It’s not that your child’s behavior is your fault, but sometimes regular parenting isn’t enough for children that are predisposed to anxiety, depression, or ADHD, etc. Parents are more capable of inspiring change in children than a therapist, and I would like to teach you to over-compensate for their behavioral challenges.”
I must admit, my answer is not entirely truthful. Behavior challenges are usually a direct result of parenting.
Even the simplest and most well-accepted of parenting techniques have been associated with adverse behaviors in children. One such technique is punishment.
According to Dr. Alan Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University, punishment is unhelpful and causes unfavorable results in children’s behavior.
Punishment causes resentment, encourages self-centered behavior, encourages dishonesty, and prevents children from developing their inner moral compass. Additionally, punishment has been shown in studies to cause psychological damage, leading to aggressive social behavior, misbehavior in school, lying, stealing, and fighting.
Punishment is not the only culprit misguiding parents. Research from The University of Texas at Austin shows that children adjust poorly when parents react negatively to their crying, fussing, or adverse behaviors. This means the globally-accepted response to crying and fussing hurts our children.
The study showed that it is even better to be a consistently negative parent than a parent that displays “aversion-focused negativity.” In the study, the more aversion-focused mothers were, the more behavior problems their children seemed to have, and the worse their social competence and emotion regulation.
Punishment is not an ingredient of effective parenting? Reacting negatively to crying, fussing, and adverse behavior is bad for children? So, what can we do as parents to steer our children straight?
Now we’re getting somewhere. Asking this question is the first step towards helping our children. Parenting is no simple task, and it is important to realize there is no shame in the struggle.
I don’t file my own taxes, suture my own wounds, or paskan my own shailos. These are not my areas of expertise. For these matters, I seek the help of a competent professional.
Parenting should be treated the same. If your children are suffering, seek help. I don’t go to the doctor and inform them which suturing technique is best to heal my wound. Please, for the sake of your children, enter therapy with an open mind. Maybe, just maybe, something can be done for your child on the parenting front. You may still be an amazing person and an amazing parent, but there is humility required in parenting.
If there are any aspects of your parenting that need work, address them before shipping your kid off to be fixed. It is easy to underestimate the impact of the subtlest parenting misstep, and we may be the greatest resource our child has to prevail over their most undesirable behaviors.
It can be difficult to learn that our parenting isn’t perfect, and even more so when we learn our parenting may be hurtful. If we take a hard look in the mirror, we will realize that we all could use some work in this regard. It requires a significant amount of humility to put our pride aside for the sake of our children, but just know that my mirror sometimes tells me to take a slice of humble pie as well. We can’t be perfect, but we can still reach for greatness, and sometimes, greatness means knowing our flaws.
“True humility is staying teachable, regardless of how much you already know.” – Unknown