I have been talking this week about parenting ideas that move away from traditional behavioural concepts of ‘reward’ and ‘punishment’ and focus more on your relationship with your child and meeting their needs at their stage of development.
These parenting ideas are more aligned with evidence-base around attachment and consider that your child is a person with their own individual personality and internal world. Unlike behavioural models that focus on reinforcement and the idea that children can be ‘trained’ to behave well, these ideas ask you as parents to respect and value your child for who they are. It offers the idea that your home can be a democracy rather than an authoritarian dictatorship. You can allow your child’s voice to be heard, while still enabling you as a parent to set limits and make the final decision.
When you practice this kind of ‘respectful parenting’ you may begin to notice that you become more comfortable to accept your child for who they are, while still teaching them good behaviours that are in line with your family values. But in order to do this, you need to show yourself the same respect, valuing and meeting your own needs.
Care for your Inner Child
The first 5-7yr of life are a particular time of development where the brain and body go through huge changes. Because the left hand side of the brain that is logical and verbal is not integrated with the right hand side of the brain that does the emotional processing our experiences during this time, including our relationships with those around us, become stored as a ‘felt memory’. This is sometimes thought of as our Inner Child, the part of us that is locked in to those early felt experiences.
As we grow and become adults, these ‘felt memories’ become stories and beliefs we hold about ourselves, others and the world. Over time they form a Script of how we lead our lives and the relationships we have with others. Most of us carry our Inner Child and these scripts without questioning or challenging their validity, they are just a part of us and they direct many of the choices we make, unconsciously.
Often and particularly in situations that trigger us and spark heightened emotion in ourselves, our Inner Child yearns for attention, understanding, care and support. When we become a parent, our Inner Child has to take a back seat so that we can be the ‘competent adult’ to our child. However, when we silence our inner child and do not meet our own needs first, it can make parenting twice as hard. When we feel ignored by our child or they appear not to listen to our requests (e.g. “How many times do I have to ask you to get dressed?”), we can start to feel frustrated, lose our patience and our ability to think with compassion and care about our child’s needs. Instead, our focus becomes “Why are you not listening to me?” – a plea from our Inner Child to be heard, acknowledged, understood.
In order to allow our Competent Adult to attend to parenting business, we must regularly keep in touch with what our Inner Child needs. What we need in those moments is to offer ourselves loving and compassionate care.
So how can you do that?
One of the hardest parts of parenting is regulating your own emotions. When you parent from a place of calm, you are more likely to be effective and to continue to model how to regulate emotions because you are doing it for yourself. As parents, we cannot expect our child to do what we are incapable or unwilling to do ourselves. When you emotionally contain and soothe your Inner Child you give yourself the opportunity to createemotional space to contain and soothe your own children.
These ideas may be new to you and it can feel strange or uncomfortable at first but engaging in practices of self-compassion and modelling these behaviours to your child will help them learn compassion for themselves, empathy and kindness to both themselves and others. It can be easier to feel compassion for others rather than yourself so if you struggle with this, try and find a photograph of yourself as a small child. Connect with that younger you when looking at the ideas below and see how it feels to show attention, compassion and love to that child.
· Speak kindly to your Inner Child each day. Give yourself the loving energy you offer your child saying words such as “I love you. I hear you. I am sorry”.
· Remind yourself that you are good enough. As a parent you always do the best you can with what you have. Tell yourself “I am good enough”.
· Regularly ask your Inner Child how she/he is feeling and what she/he needs. Imagine sitting alongside yourself as a child, put your arm around her/him and gently pulling her/him close to your heart. What does your Inner Child need in that moment? Can you give you meet those needs?
· Acknowledge and validate your feelings. All of them! When you have strong emotions rather than push them away let yourself feel them. Listen to the feelings and say, “I hear you. We’ll work through it. It’s going to be okay.”
· Respect and nourish your body, give it rest when it needs it, so you can have the energy and strength to offer nourishment and care to your child.
· Connect with the things that bring you joy and what you loved as a child. Make a big deal of your birthdays and Christmas, holidays, and be proud of all your achievements the same way you celebrate your child. YOU MATTER.
· Thank your Inner Child for never giving up, for getting through the tough moments in life with strength and perseverance. For showing up every day.
Noticing, loving and healing your Inner Child using these small practices can help you accept yourself for who you are as a parent, with your flaws and imperfections. It can also help you recognise and acknowledge that your child is always a good child, with their own flaws and imperfections.
Be good to yourself, and this will enable you to not just survive, but to thrive, and enjoy being in a relationship with your child!
If this post has brought up things that you think talking further about may help with your parenting do not hesitate to book in a telephone consultation to think about this further.