The secret to parenting success — & satisfaction — is simple: Parent from love, not fear.
So says Bryan Post, founder of The Post Institute for Family Centered Therapy. Adopted as a child, Post experienced the difficulties that can arise when a child’s needs conflict with a parent’s experience. His adopted sister was born prematurely due to fetal alcohol syndrome and spent the first months of her life in an incubator, which stunted her emotional development. His well-meaning parents had both been raised in alcoholic families, which caused them to become hyper-responsive. The combination was volatile.
Post has devoted his professional life to helping parents understand how stress, fear and trauma play out in the lives of children — and adults. “Trauma is any stressful event which is prolonged, overwhelming or unpredictable,” Post says. “If it remains unexpressed, unprocessed, and misunderstood, that forms the difference between a short-term stressful experience and a long-term, potentially life-altering traumatic event.”
A major problem with our society, Post says, “is that we discount everything…we’re always discounting experiences because we don’t like to think about things that make us uncomfortable.” But we — and our children — would be better served if we acknowledge and work through experiences, rather than pushing them aside.
Unfortunately, parents are prone to blame themselves for their children’s struggles. Our brains are wired in such a way that we take personal responsibility for their behavioral challenges, for instance. We perceive their behavior as a threat that must be dealt with immediately. It all happens in an instant.
“We’ve got to slow down and look at own internal reactions,” Post says. Blame, shame and guilt plague parents on a daily basis, but the true problem is that we beat ourselves up for feeling these emotions.
“Judgement of the feeling becomes the problem,” Post says. “When you observe the feeling, the feeling can change. When you judge the feeling, you increase the intensity of it.”
The best part about love- vs. fear-based parenting is that you don’t have to understand and even know the details of your child’s trauma. Often, Post says, adoptive parents feel frustrated because they are overwhelmed by their child’s behavior and don’t even know the details of the child’s life pre-adoption. No matter, he says. The parent is likely overwhelmed and frustrated because the “energy of the child triggers something that is already there.” Identifying and dealing with that energy (aka unresolved issue) will lead to dramatic improvement in the parents’ ability to connect with their child.
“We have to realize that parenting, whether biological, adoptive, foster or grandparenting, is more than just raising kids,” Post says. “We have to train up the children in the way they should go, but before we can can train up the child, we have to be effective disciples.” (The word disciple, by the way, means “to teach.”) A stressed out parent will never be able to force behavioral change on a stressed-out child. Instead, both become more stressed.
Post challenges parents to jot down 3 things you do that are creating the most stress in your relationship with your child & 3 things you can do to reduce stress. Then, do more of the 3 things that reduce stress & less of the 3 things that increase stress. Your parenting will change, for the better. So will your relationship with your child.
In this episode, Jen, Janet & Bryan discuss:
- The definition of trauma
- How trauma affects children
- Why we must be trauma-responsive, not simply trauma-informed
- How trauma can affect children even before birth
- Why taking your child’s behavior personally leads to damaged relationships
- Parental guilt
- Why pausing to ask yourself, “How does that behavior make me feel?” can change your parenting (for the better!)
- The importance of surrounding yourself with a network of people committed to love & relationship, not stress & fear (Need some healthy connections? The BuildingBoys & BoysAlive FB groups are filled with “boy parents” committed to love)
Links we mentioned (or should have) in this episode:
The Secret Life of the Unborn Child: How You Can Prepare Your Baby for a Healthy, Happy Life, by Thomas Verny & John Kelly — book mentioned at about 7:30
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