Parenting skills didn't come as naturally for me as I would have liked.
Eleven years ago, when I found out I was going to be a dad, I asked my father, whom I like to think did a pretty good job parenting me, for his advice.
His answer seemed simple enough: "Kids need a lot of love."
Oh good. That sounded easy enough.
Love certainly came naturally as soon as my son was born. He was cute as a button and I couldn't get enough of him in the first sleep-deprived days. That boy was super snuggled, cherished and protected. Like a lot of new dads, I also relentlessly documented and shared his development with friends and family.
Over time, my son turned out to be a challenging kid. He was colicky and difficult to soothe, and we spent months without a solid night's sleep.
When he eventually started to sleep through the night, in his waking hours he seemed to do a lot of screaming, crying and whining. I sometimes lost my cool and yelled at him. Most of the time he didn’t seem to care, but every now and then it would scare him and he'd burst into the hurt kind of tears (there’s a difference). That made me feel quite terrible.
It wasn't constantly bad, mind you, and we did have a lot of picture-perfect family moments, but overall I wasn't feeling great about my abilities as a dad. Love, as I understood it at the time, wasn't quite cutting it.
As he learned to talk, I hoped I'd be able to begin reasoning with my son when he had a grievance, instead of putting up with tantrums. Though he quickly became a good communicator, he wasn't getting any more reasonable. I began to understand the meaning of "oppositional". Daycare workers and eventually teachers reported similar experiences with him.
I was also beginning to realize that I couldn't model my parenting on the reward-and-consequence methods my parents had used on me. When my kid didn't want to do something, no reward could entice him. Conversely, no consequence could deter him from actions we would have preferred he didn't pursue. For example, when he was 4, within a day or two from getting yelled at for spritzing sun screen onto all the windows, he spread yogurt on all the living room furniture.
Worn out from believing I wasn't cutting it as a dad, I began to think maybe the problem wasn't with me, but it was with him. This notion turned out to be only partly true, but it was a tempting alternative to losing my cool on a regular basis, avoiding spending time with him and then beating myself up over it all.
With this new belief in mind, we sought out professional help for him and found the professionals to still be very focused on us parents. “Why aren’t they trying to fix him,” I thought. We tried old and new techniques. We did learn a few things that turned out to be helpful, but not everything worked.
It took well over a year of individual and group therapy, as well as psychologist and psychiatrist visits before my son was diagnosed with a nonverbal learning disability and ADHD. That's when the pieces all came together and we were able to zero in on the just the right treatments and practices.
So things began to sort themselves out. My son has grown out of most of his problem behaviors, and, to be truthful, so have I. We’ve cultivated a great relationship. After all the discussions with experts, videos watched and books consumed, and observations of trying pretty much everything with my son, I’ve come to these firmly held universal parenting beliefs:
Kids Do Well If They Can
This simple, but powerful core belief is something I first learned from reading The Explosive Child, by Dr. Ross Greene. Note how fundamentally different it is than saying “kids do well if they want to”. Of course, kids want to do well. Of course, they want to do the things that are most conducive their parents’ love and approval. They just don’t always know how, and they often can’t express that clearly. As parents, it’s our job to help them bridge the gap between wanting to do well and actually doing well. It’s a much more positive and optimistic viewpoint than thinking that kids are purposely making your life difficult.
Kids Thrive with Play
It’s well-supported that kids learn really well through play and discovery, but there’s a deeper dimension to this. When parents can be playful and just have fun with their kids, a new, positive way to relate to them, while developing their emotional intelligence, just happens. When it’s good play, it’s low-stress, it’s enjoyable and it brings parents and kids closer together.
Parents Need Skills
I’m not the first to comment on the irony that you have to go to take a test and get licensed to drive a car, sell houses or be an electrician, but anyone who can reproduce is automatically somehow expected to raise another human being effectively. There is a right and a wrong way to behave as a parent. Everyone wants to be sure they’re handling the situation correctly, right?
It’s not easy to be a parent, especially when your child has special needs. Trouble is, you often won’t believe your child has special needs until things really aren’t working out. There are decades’ worth of good science underlying the current body of knowledge. The amount of information out there is overwhelming, actually, so it can be daunting to get started. I had gotten to a bit of a crisis point before I cracked my first book, but I wish I had started reading the occasional parenting blog a couple of years earlier.
Parents Need to Be Good to Themselves
We parents are just human beings with human limitations. The amount of self-esteem, positivity, patience and emotional control that we exhibit is based on a great deal of factors beyond our relationships with our children. A big part of effective parenting is rooted in our own ability to self-regulate, as Dr. Laura Markham explores in depth in her articles on positive parenting. Work stress, physical fitness, mindfulness, nutrition and many other dimensions come into play as we try to manage our own actions and reactions towards our kids. How can we be expected to listen to our child’s concerns if our minds are wandering to money problems? How can we be expected to react calmly and maturely to a child’s outburst if our nerves are constantly frayed from a poisonous office environment? As parents, we need to keep ourselves in top form mentally, emotionally and physically in order to be as good as we can be for our kids.
Parents Need Help
Parenting is rewarding but tough. The good news is there’s no rule that prevents parents from doing everything they can to stack the odds in favour of our children’s success. We need to lean on our partners, families, friends, experts and various other support systems sooner than later to enrich our knowledge and coping abilities. Contemporary society poses unique and ever evolving challenges to raising kids, but thankfully there are new techniques and technologies being developed to keep up.
It’s with these principles in mind that Brili was formed. In coming posts, we will explore some of these principles and explain how we see Brili supporting families viewed through each lens. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post and on your own experience of parenting.