I came across a brilliant TED talk recently. And what Dr. Shefali Tsabary had to say resonated so deeply within me that I had to share.
Her talk was about how we hurt our children. Now, we don’t have babies and then set out to hurt them. It’s over time, as the baby cries endlessly and won’t stop, as the baby turns into a toddler and won’t do what we want them to do, and as the toddler turns into a child and pushes our buttons every day. We lose our cool. We compare one child to another, telling one, “Why can’t you be more like so-and-so?” We are short with our children, counting down the minutes until bedtime and that glass of wine. We are disappointed in our child that he didn’t make the sports team. It’s not good enough for our child to want to just play outside after school every day, or to play with his Lego’s in his bedroom, he has to do martial arts, play a musical instrument, play sports, be a Boy Scout, or participate in Chess Club, or all of the aforementioned.
It’s one thing if our child begs to play soccer, and lives to play his trumpet. But when we feel they are not good enough, unless they are doing “activities,” that should be a red flag for us. When your child pushes your button daily, and you deal with it by “treating yourself” to a glass of wine, you are not dealing with it. You are pushing it further down. When your child whines and complains and it sets you off, so you lose it; that’s another red flag. We become frustrated and disappointed and ashamed by our children. We go off on our children. We heap judgment on them. We punish them. We hurt them. Most of the time we don’t intend to hurt them. We are not evil. We love them. Then why do we hurt them? We do it because we, ourselves, are hurting.
We are steeped and marinated in the stew of our parent’s issues. Whatever taught them to feel less than, and taught them that they are not good enough just because they exist, gets passed on. We internalize so many things when we are quite small, that it would blow your mind to become aware of all of it. In order to not go crazy, our conscious mind tucks away a lot of the information that comes into our little heads.
For example, once you have worked and worked so consciously and so tirelessly at mastering the art of walking, at some point, it becomes automatic. You don’t think about how to walk, you just do it. The mechanics of it slip into the subconscious level.
Same goes for how we learn about ourselves. Did we learn that WE ARE magnificent, perfect, creations that were brought forth from the most incredible, compassionate and loving energy that we call God? Did we learn that no matter what we DO, who we ARE does not change? Or did we learn that only if we clean up our room and do what we are told, that we ARE OK, and that we are good? That if we do the things that are expected of us, we are worthy? And we extrapolate, often on our own, that if we don’t do our homework when our parents want it done, or don’t do what is expected of us, that we are NOT OK. We are BAD.
And it doesn’t even have to be a parent who smacks us so hard we fly across the room, or a parent who has addiction issues and can’t really parent. Although having a damaged parent at any level will definitely impact a child negatively. One thing my bipolar mother would always do to me when she was manic, was to verbally attack me if I disagreed with her or if I asserted my self-power in any way. Her vicious tongue would cut me to pieces and I learned early to cower and to be able to sense when Mom was manic. I would duck and cover. I also became extremely shy. I didn’t trust myself. And in general, I was not ok.
Hurting a child can be subtle: the parent whose love is always conditional. The parent who praises and in the next breath says but the child could have done better. The child who is raised in a household where they are threatened with going to hell when they die if they don’t live by a certain set of rules. And the child who learns that their worth is determined by the external praise and acceptance by others. This happens when parents tie in a child’s inherent worth to their behavior (see two paragraphs before this).
The key is to realize that when you are set off by your child, you need to dig deep to find out what that is in you that comes up and reacts. When you find at the end of a day of normal life that you are “stressed out,” that should be a signal to you to get the help to figure out what is inside you that is crying to be heard.
I have found, through my own experiences, that when I’ve been set off and then have uncovered and dealt with the reason I was reacting, the button that was being pushed, disappears. It vanishes. Button gone. And yes, it is amazing. Digging up my own crap and muck, sifting through it and healing it has made me not only more peaceful in my own heart, but it’s made me a better parent by giving my son a mother who isn’t being pinged on and who isn’t irritated or reactive anywhere near where she used to be. Also, in my case, in an effort to both help my son with his own issues and to work on myself, I woke up. I had a spiritual awakening that sped up my own personal growth and healing exponentially.
When we can raise our children from a space of our being healthy and whole people, we can then help our children learn their own brilliance. As parents who have worked out our triggers and no longer live in a space of fear and lack and limitation, our children’s self-worth, capability, and responsibility will be tremendous. And they will fly higher than even we can imagine.
Once you have started on the path of parenting consciously, there are a handful of parenting philosophies that will help you teach and mold your children. And one program that I particularly love, partly because it absolutely does NOT advocate punishment, and whose goals are to teach young people to become responsible, respectful and resourceful members of their communities, is called Positive Discipline.
The tools and concepts of Positive Discipline include:
- Mutual respect. Adults model firmness by respecting themselves and the needs of the situation, and kindness by respecting the needs of the child.
- Identifying the belief behind the behavior. Effective discipline recognizes the reasons kids do what they do and works to change those beliefs, rather than merely attempting to change behavior.
- Effective communication and problem solving skills.
- Discipline that teaches (and is neither permissive nor punitive).
- Focusing on solutions not punishment.
- Encouragement (instead of praise). Encouragement notices effort and improvement, not just success, and builds long-term self-esteem and empowerment.
Now you know what to do: work on yourself, the parent. And to help learn some awesome parenting tools, you know where to go: check out Positive Discipline.