Today I am celebrating Positive Parenting Day! It was created by my good friend Shawna at Thoughts of an Introverted Matriarch. I hope you will join us as well as others who see and feel there is great benefit in positive parenting. We all have unique perspectives that may give some clarity and insight as to what positive parenting means. Thank you for reading!
As a child I was in “trouble” a lot. I was a misunderstood child, much of my behaviors were deemed as being unruly, obstinate, disrespectful, unwilling to listen, or behave. I actually adopted all of those things about myself into my adult years until I finally received answers to my unbendable questioning of authority and relentless need to ask “why” to those things that authority figures said were so important. I was a curious child, I needed to understand why my parents, grandparents, teachers, etc … told me to do things, I needed to understand the reasoning behind what they told me to do.
I did not get my answers.
Many times I received harsh words, punishment, and was told that I needed to just listen and do what I was told. I was active, full of energy, my mind was racing and in a constant state of anxiety. I NEEDED answers, I needed to know what was happening in my life, I needed control, I needed to be comforted during the unyielding chaos that overwhelmed my little mind. All of this is still here, my mind has not changed, but my coping mechanisms have and that has only happened within the last few years of my adult life. When I finally received my diagnosis of Aspergers and generalized anxiety disorder, the other two diagnoses of depression and PTSD made sense as symptoms of not knowing about my other diagnoses.
Why didn’t teachers or other adults ask me what was going?
Had someone taken into account that my behaviors had more to do with how my brain operates they might have been able to help me. If only they would have known that my sensory challenges could be so overwhelming that they would spin me into panic attacks, and at times depression. Even as a young child I suffered from depression and anxiety, my relationship with the adults in my life could have been different if we all knew this bit of information. Had we all understood that many times just by simply telling me in advance what we were going to do or explaining to me why it was inappropriate to do something instead of automatically being reprimanded, I believe my behaviors as a child would have been less aggressive or what was considered out-of-control.
However, no one knew.
People did not understand. I still do not understand to this day how people assume that children should know better. Or the presumption is that they are purposefully misbehaving. My case is a bit different in that I had different challenges, but several factors remain — kids develop differently and each one has neurons connecting at different times. This includes their sensory connections as well as things like social skills, motor skills, learning and reading. There is this misconception that children innately understand right from wrong and not only that, they’re supposed to understand “our” right from wrong, as if they are equipped to interpret each authority’s moral compass wherever they go. They are demanded to understand an adult world full of rules that have been adopted from the adult’s very own upbringing that in most cases is completely different from another adult.
There are certain “group” rules that apply and those can be learned and reinforced in a positive way, but my question is why —
When these rules are broken, aren’t people questioning in a “I want to understand the child” way instead of assuming they are being defiant for the sake of being defiant. Consider taking a child into a sensory drenched environment with sounds, smells, lights, colors, people, you name it and the child is expected to not have any sort of reaction. They are taken to a new environment, they may or may not fully comprehend why they are there and then, they are expected to be happy and have fun! What if the child is upset because a grocery store looks and feels like a haunted house to them? What if they are freaked out because they are hearing things that they have never heard before and the only way they know how to express this is by fixating on a toy and demanding that you get it for them?
What if their behavior is them showing you that they need to be comforted and soothed because they feel like their world is out of control?
Behaviors are communication and many times with children and adults it takes detective work or just a moment of observation to figure out why those behaviors are manifesting. My adult influencers and how they treated me directly impacted how I parent. I took all of the negative experiences I had with authority figures in my life and internalized their words and actions toward me. I grew up thinking I was a bad child, I was stupid, and that I deserved to be punished if I ever did anything wrong. It became a culmination of voices that drowned out any sort of positive things ever said or done for me. I was bad and there was never going to be a way to be good. No matter how hard I tried, I still did things wrong.
This spilled into my faith.
I worked so hard at being good, I changed my life to be good. I tried and tried, but still I would think a bad thought, I could not serve everywhere so I was failing, I couldn’t be enough or be like how I perceived everyone around me. For some reason, I was the only one who couldn’t do it, I couldn’t change enough. Whenever I did something that I considered wrong, such as thinking a bad word, I punished myself in some way. Mostly through reinforcing the words spoken to me by adults throughout in my life. Even if they said them flippantly or didn’t even mean them in the way I interpreted them, I soaked them in. I accepted my fate as an unacceptable human being because I was different, because I didn’t understand, because I heard far more negative things spoken about me than positive words.
I did not want to have children for the longest time because I was afraid that I would do this to them.
I was afraid that I would spank them, lose my temper, say things that could destroy their self-esteem, treat them with disrespect. I was afraid that I would be a horrible parent. I beat myself up for how I was as a teenager with my younger sisters. I was not always the kindest person because I was angry and confused. I had a lot of things going on in my life that were so bad and so ugly, I grew up being bullied and made fun during my school years all of these things seeped together, they led me into the path of suicidal thoughts throughout the years. The voices singing loudly about how inadequate, unwanted, unworthy, and tainted I was bombarded my brain. I dredged through these voices gasping for air just to feel ok. I couldn’t be the person I wanted to be for for my sisters, I couldn’t be the person I had always thought I should be, and that scared me about being a parent.
It wasn’t until I started teaching Sunday school that I realized who I really was around kids.
When I taught them I did not teach at them. I talked to them, I wanted to know what they thought. I wanted to understand where they were at. When a child became disruptive I tried to understand why they were behaving that way. I recall one boy who would act out and interrupt making it hard for the others and me to do class. The standard discipline was to make them sit outside the door, I hated it. One time, I took him out and asked him why he was acting like this. He was hard, and I could tell that he was bracing himself for being “in trouble”. It was as if I saw the walls wrap around his heart as he geared up to be told once again how awful he was and if he didn’t stop he was going to be removed. I looked at him and asked, “Why are you behaving this way? Don’t you know that we want you here?”
His eyes looked as if he were in pain.
I went on, “Don’t you know that I want you here? I think you are a great kid and I want to spend time with you learning and teaching, but I can’t do that if you continue to disrupt the class. The other kids want you here too, but they also want to learn and have fun.” I remember vividly how he looked at me and told me that no one wanted him. My heart broke, and I asked him more questions, reinforcing that he had value and that he mattered. I did not have any challenges with him for the rest of the Sunday school time, but other adults did. They punished him, they did not talk to him. They ignored his cries, “behavioral outbursts” longing to trust an adult and remind him that indeed he did matter. I treated him with respect and I valued what he had to say.
After doing several years of teaching, I felt that I really wanted to have children.
I desired it so much and it wasn’t happening, I look back now and though I am saddened by the loss of a child, I am thankful that I was able to have kids later in my life. My fears were still there, but I had become such a different person that my natural instincts overthrew much of my negative parenting style that I had learned from society and growing up. I still had my days and I still do, having children can make you tired and overwhelmed especially as a new parent. Having twins was scary and overwhelming for me, then becoming pregnant right away, discovering it on Daniel and Ariel’s first birthday, was lot for me as well. Discovering Daniel being Autistic took on other forms of stress and chaos for me. Not because of him, but because of all of the confusing and misinformation about autism. During that time it was still quite limited in understanding, awareness, and misinformation.
I had people telling me that my child was wrong, bad, needed to stop his behaviors, he should not be like “this”.
And it hit me, he needed to be understood. He needed my empathy, acceptance, and respect. I have applied that way of thinking to all of my kids. I am not going to say it has been easy or that it is now, there always times when it gets tough and times when it gets overwhelmingly rough. However, we do our best at staying positive and respectful. The kids are allowed to speak their minds. They are allowed to question our ideas, rules, decisions, answers, and yes even our behaviors. We talk about things, we question things together, we discuss theories, human behavior, faith, whatever, we talk about it. Though we do that we still have rules. They understand that if the rules are broken, there are consequences for those actions. We do not hide it from them either that if we break the rules we have to deal with the consequences.
There are no harsh punishments.
We do not speak words to them that attack their identity or personality. We do not tell them that they are bad, a disappointment, or should know better, etc … They are kids, their minds are developing and will continue to develop. Right now their minds are learning and branching out to discover things about themselves. They should start to question authority and create their own opinions. They understand that when they question they may not like the answer, but they still need to trust that we are doing what we think is the best for them. They do not “get away” with things, they feel no need to. Do they sneak, tell the occasional lie, try to pull a fast one on us? You betcha! And that is a good thing, they are testing the waters while it is safe. They know that if they do something that they should not that they will most likely be discovered and there will be consequences such as taking a break in their room, or not being able to play video games.
They are good kids.
I have not had to manipulate or coerce them into choosing right from wrong. Fear and harsh punishment, or even spanking has not been used to control their behaviors. We use empathy, reassurance, cause and effect with their reasoning that is age appropriate, respect, and our own fallibility to parent our kids. Our goal has been and will continue to be to raise children who respect themselves and others. Who choose to be empathetic toward themselves and others. To understand that actions do have consequences and that can have a positive or a negative outcome. To understand that we all make mistakes, we learn from them, and move on. We need to show compassion, try to understand others, and be open when we do not understand something. And that they should strive to be the very best them – an individual in competition with no one but themselves.
To me those are some things I think about and how I feel about positive parenting.