When my husband and I became parents, we had big plans about how we were going to mold and shape our children into respectful and respectable little people. We have now been parents for 10 years, and I have to admit we have learned more and become better parents in the past two than we did in the first eight.
Two years ago we added to our family by adopting a 7-year-old boy from China. Adopting an older child from a difficult past means reading lots of books on trauma, attachment issues and the brain. Luckily, I have a great interest in these subjects, so the learning is fun. Putting the principles we’ve learned into practice with patience and grace is not easy though, even when you know it is best.
Practicing what we were learning about parenting kids from hard places, we began pouring nurturing and grace super thick onto our newest son. Of course this did not go unnoticed by our other two kids. We explained to them over and over that their brother’s brain was wired differently and he just couldn’t handle the same discipline and lectures that we gave them. We had to go a lot easier on him so that he knew he was safe and loved.
After many months, maybe close to a year, I started to realize that even though the way we were parenting our new son was necessary for him so that his brain learned to trust us and attach to us, it really wasn’t fair to the other two kids. And what would it hurt to parent them in a similar way?
I have become more conscious of this, and it has improved my relationship with both of them, especially my daughter. I did simple things like remaining calm when upset, praising good deeds more often than criticizing mischief, and identifying the underlying need that prompts the behavior. This one is the most important.
So often we punish our kids immediately for misbehavior (I am pretty sure I read somewhere that you should!). However, if we take a few minutes to talk, think and process the situation, we often see the big picture and realize there was a need that caused the behavior. Sometimes they’re hungry; sometimes they’re tired. Often, they just need attention.
If a child is being obnoxious for the sake of someone paying attention to them, and then that someone yells at them or punishes them, they certainly are not going to feel loved in that moment.
It was such a critical goal in our minds to make sure that our “traumatized child” knew that he was always loved and safe, but especially when he was in trouble, so we approached him with much more patience and gentleness than was natural. But then when the other two kids misbehaved (often as a way to get our attention), we were slap out of grace.
This was wrong and unfair.
So we have changed our parenting style to keep connection, felt safety, and a loving environment as a goal for all of our kids. This is new for us, but I find that there is much more joy in this style of parenting and, for the most part, we have happier children.
The more they are connected to us and feel loved by us, the more they want to please us. We still have plenty of issues and sibling disputes in our home, but much less yelling and punishment. And hopefully we have kids who know that they are loved no matter what.
Photo courtesy of Hernan Sanchez
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