When Positive Parenting Becomes Desperate Doctoring

When Positive Parenting Becomes Desperate Doctoring

As I sat in the pediatrician’s office, teary-eyed and defeated, I thought back to the first day I brought my son here.  He was such a happy baby and I was in love with him.  Regardless of his restless energy and frequent squirming, I knew he was going to surpass all fears I had of being a mother.  Fast forward eight years, and we were back to discuss yet another medication for his ADHD.  There was no chocolate, drink, drug or amount of sleep that could relieve this weight on my shoulders. 

In the beginning, I had seen myself as a positive and educated woman.  However, at some point within this journey, I found myself without answers, feeling helpless and frightened.  My “Mom of the Year” award had officially been revoked.

Through my studies of psychology, I began understanding the neurological development processes that do make sense — and have nothing to do with my parenting abilities.  What a relief!  That said, I also found several opportunities I had missed that would have helped my child’s confidence and self-acceptance.  Ironically, it was him who pointed that out, and not in a way I expected.

During childcare and his early years in elementary school, the teachers provided consistent feedback on my son’s behavior – too busy, won’t sit still, social butterfly, blurts out, can’t control himself, and so on.  At the time, I became consumed in my mission to “get him fixed”.  This became the reason for one of many opportunities I missed as a new parent. 

Love your children for who they are.  

At the time, it seemed I was being the best parent by finding the right person to help him.  As a result, my son tried one thing after another and nothing fit.  He was taken to the pediatrician, the psychologist, a few counselors, several kinds of therapy groups, and back full circle, while also being fed 13 various medications that would magically help him focus and stop talking too much.

I became so focused on finding a way to change this negative feedback about my son that I forgot to let him know I loved him for all of those energetic, happy and spontaneous behaviors that made him unique and lovable.  How did I miss that?  Think of a shopping day when you tried on one pair of pants after another, finally resigning yourself to the fact that something was just wrong with how you were made.  After repeated failures, human beings become what they know to be real, and begin fulfilling their new role of existing as The Issue or The Failure.

On that particular day, as we left the pediatrician’s office and got back into the car, I got in the driver’s seat and did not move. After all of the effort his father and I were putting forth, and all of the discipline changes we had tried, nothing had worked.  As I leaned forward to put the key in the ignition, I heard a small voice from the back seat calmly ask, “Mommy, do they know what’s wrong with me yet?”, and I turned to see big blue eyes looking hopefully at me.  I am not sure how, but I somehow managed to climb into the backseat and hold my baby boy close.  My sunshine.  My life.  My heartbeat.

Sometimes, and even with the best intentions, we forget to enjoy our children because we are so busy responding to the problems we have been focused on.  In her research, Dr. Gwen Dewar explained that parental stress is natural because of our cognitive reflex to search for patterns that could be threatening to or for our children.  As we see or hear something negative, we automatically begin looking for it to happen again and our role shifts from nurturer to fixer.

My grandmother, who, by all accounts, was the inspiration that molded me into the woman I am, never seemed frustrated or intolerant of my brother and I.  I believed I would maintain the same temperament as a mother one day, yet found that it was much harder than I had realized.  I have since learned that positive parenting is not about faking a smile all the time or gritting your teeth to avoid slamming your fist on the table or yelling.  No, no, no!  It’s about looking at the little person you have before you, knowing he or she is adapting to this big world and needing your help to navigate through it.  When people tell you that opportunities only come once, they aren’t joking.

The three things that help me most are also the things that have improved my relationships with others who are important to me.

Listen. 

No, really.  Stop talking!  And stop thinking of that one thing you have to say in order to make your point in the conversation.  Children are not born to know and understand their feelings.  Let them voice what is important in their little minds and hearts.  They need to learn how to express themselves, and see the importance of listening to the thoughts of others.  Do you really want to teach them to be the loudest or get the last word in a discussion?  If so, don’t be upset with them when they begin showing disrespect and become argumentative.

Smile. 

In the brain’s process of storing memories, remember the right things your children do, too.  The science proves we are apt to hold on to the negative far more tightly than the positive, so take the time to focus on the good.  Make a list of what he or she does that meets your expectations each day.  Celebrate the number of times the toilet seat is put down or the toys end up in the right bin.  Don’t fake it, shake it.  Lose those bad vibes, or you will find yourself being down and irritated. 

Touch.  

Be affectionate.  And no, that does not always mean physical interaction.  If your child’s diagnosis makes physical touch difficult, find another way!  Make a box and draw a heart to put in your child’s box each day.  When it’s a down day, open it and remind this special little one of all the ways he or she is so lovable.  Give a fist bump or slap flip-flops to give them a tangible confirmation of how much they are appreciated.  Put your pride aside, this is a life-changer!


In all of the overwhelming moments, keep this in mind.  Your child is yours.  He or she is looking to you for directions on how to navigate these curious waters.  Opportunities should be seized to teach them how to view situations and respond to life’s many changes.  Instead of searching for the next dreadful day of uncontrollable actions, show them the actions you expect to see. 


About the Author: Shannon Jones

Shannon writes to encourage others through the journeys of parenthood, marriage, and other life stages, while offering insight into the sources of behavioral and communicative issues. She and her husband are founders of The GRACE Project, a non-profit organization that focuses on awareness and prevention of human trafficking, which provides free services to victims of abuse and single mothers.  Grounded in her faith, Shannon sings and reads, smiling through life’s lessons and embracing each day with enthusiasm.

In her goal to educate others, she studies published journals and medical reviews that offer evidence-based solutions through experimental research and case studies. Shannon is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in the field of psychology, with specializations in behavior and neuroscience.

3 Comments

SL

Thanks for the article.

I do not know where to start. This is going to be a long one as I am really at my wit’s end with my toddler and things are so bad that I have started anxiety medications because of her behaviour.

I am a mother to a super strong-willed, not-at-all-easy toddler- she is 2.5 years old. From the age of 15 months to around 2 years, she was extremely clingy to me, did not play on her own at all and was overall not well adjusted in social gatherings such as a wedding ceremony where she made me cry with her clingy and stubborn behaviour. But by the time her second birthday came, she showed remarkable change, her clinginess subsided and she started playing on her own. Also she became easy to handle as she would listen to us, cooperate and was becoming a thriving kid.

Since last one month she has gone back to square one. I first took it as just a phase but now its driving me crazy. Its like I am going through the same torturous experience once again and for what! Her day starts with whining. It takes all of my patience to get her out of bed. Then breakfast has become a joke as she throws her food, cries, demands for things she cannot have like icecreams and cookies and cries some more. She was doing okay at school but after a 15 day vacation, she is resisting like anything and cries that she doesnt want to go to school at all. My major concern is that she has COMPLETELY LOST her ability to play alone. She keeps on saying I cannot do this, I cannot do that, mummaaaaa my toys fell, mammmma my balloon is not going high up enough! Trust me I am not exaggerating when I say that she cries every 5 minutes for something or the other. NOTHING pleases her. Also, lately she has started asking for things she cannot have- ice cubes to play with, real food to cook, tea to drink (which she knows is not allowed), bucket full of water with soap and all that hoopla for her dolls to take bath, real knives to cut food, real burning candles to that she can pretend to pray. Basically she does not want to do pretend play at all. And whatever toy she plays with, she will find a way to get frustrated with it in mere 5 minutes (or less). Also she has become super clingy just like her earlier self. No matter how calmly and firmly I tell her that I need to do xyz (go to washroom, cook dinner, chat with friend on phone), she howls and follows me. If I am out of her sight even for 2 seconds, she screams for me.

She has also started opposing me and her dad for almost everything- we say get dressed, she says no. We say wear pink, she says she wants yellow. We give her two options, she goes for the third one. We ask her to eat, she spits her food. We tell her its bedtime, she goes crying on floor hitting her head. We tell her pick her toys, she throws them even further, then spits on them and laughs. Her public tantrums have become epic. Almost every time there is a guest at home (and we have lots), she creates a scene by yanking their stuff, asking them for sweets, crying on the floor for no reason, biting us in front of them!
I am not able to identify with this girl!

I am trying to be really patient, firmly setting boundaries. Trust me I really am! But when it happens every second of every day, it becomes impossible to deal with her. My blood pressure shoots up by the end of the day and as I said, I have started taking anxiety meds. NONE of the practiced calm techniques are helping. We set boundaries, sometime it works but most of the time it doesnt! WHAT DO I DO?! I feel like a big failure. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE reply. PLEASE. I am very desperate.

P.S. I work fulltime and she goes to school at 12 pm to 6 pm (including daycare). Recently for her vacation, she was at her granparent’s fro 15 days (she has been staying with them in the past for a week or so and it helped her be more independent from me). But this time it has seems to have backfired. She showed signs of regression before her vacation and now after coming back, it has grown into full-fledged clinginess and other problems I discussed earlier. I know my self-dependent, thriving girl is down there somewhere, but I am uanble to get her back. Need help.

Reply
Karen Young

Nothing you are describing about your daughter sounds out of the ordinary. Tantrums are very normal at this age as she is struggling with wanting to feel independent, but not feeling ready. She is experimenting with where the line is, and although that can be difficult to deal with, it’s a normal, healthy part of her discovering who she is in the world when she is not attached to you. As to the other behaviour you describe, if she is wanting to do everything with you, it’s because she wants to feel connected to you. Independence and resilience NEED relationship. As parents we need to support their reach into the world, and encourage brave behaviour, but at 2.5, she is still getting used to how the world works and who she is when she isn’t with you. It’s confusing time – she will oppose you because she is experimenting with her independence, but she is still looking for the security and safety of being close and connected to you. It’s a balancing act and it isn’t easy. She is young and still learning how to use her words to effectively get her needs met. Be patient – learning how to navigate the world takes time. Here are some articles that might help:
https://www.heysigmund.com/how-to-build-influence-with-kids-and-teens/; and
https://www.heysigmund.com/developmental-stage/

Reply
Ann

Amazing article! All parents should be made to read this!!
Love what you are doing for others Shannon.

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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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