“Well, my parents spanked me and I turned out all right!”
If we're honest with ourselves, most of us would report that more often than not, the way we instinctually approach parenting situations with our children stems from the way we were parented ourselves.
This is not a shocking revelation. It makes good sense that our parenting is a learned behavior. After all, most of us spent 18+ years experiencing and observing the actions and approaches of our parents, and – like it or not – these are the reactions and responses called up by our subconscious when we're caught in the heat of the moment with our own children.
For some parents, following the path on which they were raised may be working well (good for you, I assure you I am only a tiny bit envious), but the world has changed. Back in the day, survival, respect, and productivity were the main focus of raising kids, which made sense given the cultural and industrial climate of previous generations.
Today, parenting has been flipped on its head, which, in many ways, is a good thing. We now know that parenting based on our child’s unique temperament and emotional needs can enhance their social and emotional development immensely. Here's some food for thought on why you may want to flip the parenting script a bit with your own kids.
Whether the issue lies in the emotional, physical, or developmental realm for your child, having atypical development is going to make parenting more complex. It's likely that due to the experiences your child has had, their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors will be more complex and therefore more challenging for you to address. As stressful as this will be at times, adapting your parenting to these needs can be a game changer for both your child and your family life in general.
Parents will likely need to work harder to understand the root cause of their children’s behaviors, in order to find the interventions that will be successful. Of course, there are basic truths that apply when handling difficult behaviors in all children, but children struggling socially, behaviorally, or academically will benefit from a more specialized approach than you likely had as a child.
Resist the urge to run and grab your pitchforks and hear me out. No, the world should not revolve around our children, and yes, our kids do need to adapt to the order and routine in the world around them, including adult authorities. However, this is a very different story than adapting our ways of disciplining (teaching) and reacting to them in day-to-day life.
Don’t get me wrong, this one is a painful point for many of us. We are parenting on our merry way with acceptable methods that seem to work well for other kids (maybe even your other kids), but it just feels like you're banging your head against a brick wall. Your child's behaviors aren’t changing, and in fact, may be getting worse. If this is happening, it's likely that your well-meaning approach is not in tune with your child’s personality or temperament.
As adults, we're aware that we all have things to which we respond more positively. We know what types of communication get through to us better than others, or what learning styles we're most receptive to. Our children are no different. Pretending these differences aren’t there doesn’t do them, or us, any favors. The more we can attune and adjust to our child’s needs, the higher the odds are that our parenting efforts will be fruitful.
Parenting nowadays is markedly different than in generations past. We have information, lots of information, and good stuff at that. Although we may take many of these resources for granted (and be overwhelmed by them at times), parents did not always have help or support in navigating the complicated and crazy-making world of parenting.
It only makes sense that we would take advantage of facts that resulted from actual science over previous decades, indicating which approaches yield the best and most positive lasting results with children. When we take time to explore what our parenting values are, we are making the choice to be intentional in the way we raise our kids. Some of these values will align with the way you were parented, and some will not, but figuring out the difference enables us to become conscious of the way we're approaching things in the moment with our own children.
The thing is, changing aspects of your parenting approach from the one you experienced is not about whether or not your parents got it right, it’s about whether or not you’re trying your best to get it right with your own unique child.
We know with great certainty that every child and every family is unique. Attuning and adjusting to these needs gives our parenting and our kids an extra edge towards healthy development in all aspects of life. Is it more work? Hell, yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely. We only have one shot at this parenting gig. None of us will do it perfectly, but I think we can all agree we’d like to look back and know that we never stopped giving it, and them, our best shot.