What Do You Believe About Children

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We alllllll have a belief about children whether we realize it or not. Let's explore our beliefs, shall we?

What is your core belief about children?

Do you perceive them as “little devils,” “little rascals,” “a handful,” “up to no good,” “entitled,” “giving you a run for your money”?

Are you afraid that your baby, toddler, pre-schooler or older will drain you, run you ragged, off the road, rock your boat, turn your world upside down if you “let them”?

Do you worry that children will become “wild” unless you “tighten the reins?”

Do you find yourself feeling depleted, resentful, even intimidated by your children’s behavior, reactions, emotions and needs?

If you secretly (or not so secretly) think that children are inherently chaotic, mischievous, manipulative, demanding, exhausting little people who require adults to keep them under control, then you will unconsciously parent with fear.

You will be on guard.

You will be primed for conflict.

You will unconsciously invite a fight. A gesture, a look, a clipped tone, arousing defense in our child.

You will parent defensively—ready to ward off threats to your ego, your balance, your sense of power and control, your finances, your marriage, your health, and more.

Your sense of competence will feel tested, and as a result, you will be quick to react, parenting with a short fuse and a long memory. In your defended state, you might easily perceive your children as undeserving of unconditional love, but rather in need of ultimatums, nagging, punishments, bribes, control tactics to manage them into compliance. All in the name of teaching responsibility, respect, cooperation, morality, to abide by a law and rule conscious "real world."

On the other hand, if your deep-seated belief is that children are inherently good, honest, innocent, forthright, wise, deep thinkers...here to teach you about yourself and them, guiding you to become the parent they need, deserving of your love, guidance, understanding, forgiveness, then you will practice parenting with heart instead of hurt, with compassion instead of control, with humility instead of humiliation, empathy instead of ego, with an awareness of their motivations and your own.

Why does this matter?

Because our unconscious and conscious perceptions of children will determine our role in their lives.

Because our perceptions will affect how we see our children. Lazy or laid-back. Aggressive or assertive. Wild or exuberant. Difficult or discerning. We will see our child through a pinhole or through a panoramic lens of humanity, one that allows us to constantly shift our stance to get a better view of this wonder-full child.

Because our fears dictate our choices, our reactions, and our approach.

Because our fears will determine how much control we feel we need to exert over the situation and over our kids. If we make it a practice to see manipulation and difficulty in our child, we unwittingly reject our child on that level.

Our child feels it.

We criticize more, we huff, we shake our head, we fight more about certain themes, we say NO without hearing the whole story. We yell more. We don't touch as much. We invest in our distractions. We allow ALL of our other burdens to become the Gibraltar rock in the road that we assume is our child's doing, the result of the "way they are." Our kids get the message that we are resistant to who they are. They begin to shut down in ways we can't see. To hide parts of themselves. Just as we did in at their age.

In defense, our child's brain literally becoming "self-protective" and "stress-reactive."

We are then ready to resist...his resistance.

When we find ourselves in this parenting state on mind, our natural tendency is to reach for controls. We want change. We want relief. We think it comes from demanding it from the other person. Fear is fueling our negative perceptions and reactions: fear of losing control, fear of our children being out of control, fear of subsequent problems at school, fear of delinquency, fear of our choices backfiring, fear of blame, fear of ridicule, fear of criticism, fear of feeling incompetent, fear of inadequacy, fear of powerlessness in our own home, fear of chaos, fear of being consumed, fear of guilt, fear of helplessness to change things, fear of our children disliking us, fear of rebellion, fear of loss, fear of them.

The pervasive fear that underlies all that we do has the effect of eroding our self-confidence, our faith, our hope, our belief in the inherent goodness of our children and ourselves. Fear can drain us on many levels. It can fray our spirits, create deep fissures in our relationships, dilute our strength, and literally changes our brain. These changes can become the "way" we simply are, after enough practice. States become traits, as trauma specialist Dr. Bruce Perry wrote in his paper on the brain as a "use-dependent" organ. Whatever we practice grows. Our brains don't like to live in fear, but if fear is what we keep giving it, it will organize itself accordingly.

A stress-reactive parent brain raises a stress-reactive child brain. Both are focused on self-protection. "It's not my fault!" "Stop it!" "I didn't do it!" "Don't look at me like that!" "You always..." "You never..." "Why do you have to be so scattered/unfocused/mean/selfish..." "Give me a break for once!" "I can't take this anymore."

When we are driven by fear, we live in defense. Every action is a potential assault to our senses. People get under our skin more easily. We perceive injustice more quickly, and can’t shake off perceived offenses. We are quick to judge. To snap. To retaliate. We react negatively to our child, which then makes us feel bad about ourselves as parents and people. Our guilt and shame are then projected back onto our kids like hot potatoes...or we overcompensate by making it up to the children such that they trust and allow us in again.

Deep breath.

On the other hand...when we practice parenting from a place that isn’t driven by fear, we cultivate a paradigm shift (a parent-digm shift) in our way of relating, living, loving, giving and receiving, in the way we use words, silence, body language, the way we see others as both separate from and connected to us.

With coercive fear out of the equation, we are free to see the truth. We can see beyond the obvious questions of right and wrong, and can focus on growth. We can discover a child’s needs and true motivations, because we are looking for them. We see each other as imperfect, fantastic works-in-progress, not products that have a lifetime guarantee.

Seeing our child for who he or she is is only possible if we know ourselves.

If we see us, we see them.

If we like ourselves, embrace our flaws and old stories and shortcomings, we like the same in them. Our kids need to know we like them, like how they think, like their unique selves, not as extensions of us, but expansions from us.

We discover what drives us as we understand what drives our child. This can pave a path for profound change and connection in our relationship. We can see a situation for what it is instead of what it might say about us. We can see our children in a truer light, because we aren’t burdened by our own need to protect ourselves from their actions and reactions--and needs.

Nurturing a child's authentic self is a natural outcome of practicing authenticity in our own lives within ourselves. Our kids want real, not perfect. And they absolutely flourish as human beings who feel good in their own skin when we allow them to unfold without judgment and pressure to "be" someone else.

From early on, don't dry tears. Emotions are who we are. No, I don't mean road rage is who we are. I mean, emotions are our barometer, our internal gauge, our compass, our heartmap telling us where we've been, what we need. Without emotion, we flatline our relationships, put a ceiling on our lives, stop growing as human beings. There's a neurobiological reason that our limbic system in the midbrain holds 5 functions in the same area: emotion, motivation, attachment, memory and appraisal.

To remember it, I call it E-MAMA.

Think of the grouping of these 5 powerhouses! Emotion connected with motivation, attachment, with how we remember, what we process and what we can't that becomes trauma, and how we appraise a situation as threatening or inviting, comforting, safe. Incredible!

Those old suppression beliefs, our perceptions of teaching kids to be quiet and hold in their emotions are not only biologically NOT in keeping with their and our humanity, it's now potentially dangerous to teach our kids to "just go along with what people tell you to do." Cultivating our child's true self is as much a honor as it is the most powerful "preparation" we can offer them for life.

This is our shared freedom. To tell our story, know our story, understand and make sense of how our experiences have shaped us...so that we don't relive and re-enact our story with our kids, making it theirs, giving them our cliffhangers and dramas and twisted plots, but instead, giving them the room and the clarity of mind to write their own and be--and love--who they are.

--Lu Hanessian, 2011