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  My “Mom of the Year” award had officially been revoked.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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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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