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  My “Mom of the Year” award had officially been revoked.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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Growth doesn’t always announce itself in ways that feel safe or invited. Often, it can leave us exhausted and confused and with dirt in our pores from the fury of the battle. It is this way for all of us, our children too. 

The truth of it all is that we are all born with a profound and immense capacity to rise through challenges, changes and heartache. There is something else we are born with too, and it is the capacity to add softness, strength, and safety for each other when the movement towards growth feels too big. Not always by finding the answer, but by being it - just by being - safe, warm, vulnerable, real. As it turns out, sometimes, this is the richest source of growth for all of us.
When the world feel sunsettled, the ripple can reach the hearts, minds and spirits of kids and teens whether or not they are directly affected. As the important adult in the life of any child or teen, you have a profound capacity to give them what they need to steady their world again.

When their fears are really big, such as the death of a parent, being alone in the world, being separated from people they love, children might put this into something else. 

This can also happen because they can’t always articulate the fear. Emotional ‘experiences’ don’t lay in the brain as words, they lay down as images and sensory experiences. This is why smells and sounds can trigger anxiety, even if they aren’t connected to a scary experience. The ‘experiences’ also don’t need to be theirs. Hearing ‘about’ is enough.

The content of the fear might seem irrational but the feeling will be valid. Think of it as the feeling being the part that needs you. Their anxiety, sadness, anger (which happens to hold down other more vulnerable emotions) needs to be seen, held, contained and soothed, so they can feel safe again - and you have so much power to make that happen. 

‘I can see how worried you are. There are some big things happening in the world at the moment, but my darling, you are safe. I promise. You are so safe.’ 

If they have been through something big, the truth is that they have been through something frightening AND they are safe, ‘We’re going through some big things and it can be confusing and scary. We’ll get through this. It’s okay to feel scared or sad or angry. Whatever you feel is okay, and I’m here and I love you and we are safe. We can get through anything together.’
I love being a parent. I love it with every part of my being and more than I ever thought I could love anything. Honestly though, nothing has brought out my insecurities or vulnerabilities as much. This is so normal. Confusing, and normal. 

However many children we have, and whatever age they are, each child and each new stage will bring something new for us to learn. It will always be this way. Our children will each do life differently, and along the way we will need to adapt and bend ourselves around their path to light their way as best we can. But we won't do this perfectly, because we can't always know what mountains they'll need to climb, or what dragons they'll need to slay. We won't always know what they’ll need, and we won't always be able to give it. We don't need to. But we'll want to. Sometimes we’ll ache because of this and we’ll blame ourselves for not being ‘enough’. Sometimes we won't. This is the vulnerability that comes with parenting. 

We love them so much, and that never changes, but the way we feel about parenting might change a thousand times before breakfast. Parenting is tough. It's worth every second - every second - but it's tough. Great parents can feel everything, and sometimes it can turn from moment to moment - loving, furious, resentful, compassionate, gentle, tough, joyful, selfish, confused and wise - all of it. Great parents can feel all of it.

Because parenting is pure joy, but not always. We are strong, nurturing, selfless, loving, but not always. Parents aren't perfect. Love isn't perfect. And it was meant to be. We’re raising humans - real ones, with feelings, who don't need to be perfect, and wont  need others to be perfect. Humans who can be kind to others, and to themselves first. But they will learn this from us. Parenting is the role which needs us to be our most human, beautifully imperfect, flawed, vulnerable selves. Let's not judge ourselves for our shortcomings and the imperfections, and the necessary human-ness of us.❤️
The behaviour that comes with separation anxiety is the symptom not the problem. To strengthen children against separation anxiety, we have to respond at the source – the felt sense of separation from you.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person, there will be always be anxiety unless there is at least one of 2 things: attachment with another trusted, adult; or a felt sense of you holding on to them, even when you aren’t beside them. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it needs more than an adult being present. Just because there is another adult in the room, doesn’t mean your child will experience a deep sense of safety with that adult. This doesn’t mean the adult isn’t safe - it’s about what the brain perceives, and that brain is looking for a deep, felt sense of safety. This will come from the presence of an adult who, through their strong, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for them, and their joy in doing so. The joy in caretaking is important. It lets the child rest from seeking the adult’s care because there will be a sense that the adult wants it enough for both.

This can be helped along by showing your young one that you trust the adult to love and care for your child and keep him or her safe in your absence: ‘I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.’ This doesn’t mean children will instantly feel the attachment, but the path towards that will be more illuminated.

To help them feel you holding on even when you aren’t with them, let them know you’ll be thinking of them and can’t wait to be with them again. I used to tell my daughter that every 15 seconds, my mind makes sure it knows where she is. Think of this as ‘taking over’ their worry. ‘You don’t have to worry about you or me because I’m taking care of both of us – every 15 seconds.’ This might also look like giving them something of yours to hold on to while you’re gone – a scarf, a note. You will always be their favourite way to safety, but you can’t be everywhere. Another loving adult or the felt presence of you will help them rest.
Sometimes it can be hard to know what to say or whether to say anything at all. It doesn’t matter if the ‘right’ words aren’t there, because often there no right words. There are also no wrong ones. Often it’s not even about the words. Your presence, your attention, the sound of your voice - they all help to soften the hard edges of the world. Humans have been talking for as long as we’ve had heartbeats and there’s a reason for this. Talking heals. 

It helps to connect the emotional right brain with the logical left. This gives context and shape to feelings and helps them feel contained, which lets those feelings soften. 

You don’t need to fix anything and you don’t need to have all the answers. Even if the words land differently to the way you expected, you can clean it up once it’s out there. What’s important is opening the space for conversation, which opens the way to you. Try, ‘I’m wondering how you’re doing with everything. Would you like to talk?’ 

And let them take the lead. Some days they’ll want to talk about ‘it’ and some days they’ll want to talk about anything but. Whether it’s to distract from the mess of it all or to go deeper into it so they can carve their way through the feeling to the calm on the other side, healing will come. So ask, ‘Do you want to talk about ‘it’ or do you want to talk about something else? Because I’m here for both.’ ♥️
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