Secrets of successful parenting

Developing yourself can lead to being a better parent.

  • Nov. 28, 2012 5:00 a.m.

So much of the information out there about how to be a better parent focuses on techniques for modifying your child’s behavior. But it is missing the mark. Research has shown that the one thing a person can do to be a better parent is to focus on developing him or herself. This is where a person has to start in order to be a nurturing, attuned mother or father. When it comes to parenting, there are many reasons for us to look inward and understand ourselves as people if our goal is to become a better parent.

Our children often reawaken painful feelings that we long ago blocked from our awareness. The innocence, liveliness, and spontaneity of a child can stir up the hurts in our own childhoods and threaten to reactivate them.

Our avoidance of these old feelings can cause us to pull away from relating closely with our children. At times when there is an emotional connection, we may be uncomfortable and even feel anger or resentment toward our child.

If we stay defended against the feelings that are being stirred up in us, we will be cut off from our children and misattuned to what they are feeling and experiencing.

Instead of continuing to defend ourselves against feelings we suppressed in childhood, we can face them and make sense of any traumas that have been unresolved. Once we understand what happened in our own childhoods, we can be more effective parents and develop more secure attachments with our children.

In Parenting from the Inside Out, Dan Siegel states, “The integration of our own self-knowledge facilitates our being open to the process of becoming emotionally connected with our children. Coherent self-knowledge and interpersonal joining go hand in hand.”

We project our critical feelings about ourselves on to our children.

The ambivalent attitudes we have toward our children are simply a reflection of the ambivalent attitudes we have toward ourselves. All people are divided in the sense that they have feelings of warm self-regard as well as feelings of self-hatred and self-depreciation.

Therefore, it is not surprising that parents would extend these same contradictory attitudes toward their offspring. Parents’ attitudes toward their children are a by-product of their fundamental conflicts and ambivalence toward themselves.

It is not uncommon for parents to disown their self-critical attitudes and negative self-image by projecting them onto their child.

When they do this, they are then overly critical of these projected qualities and traits in the youngster.

As a result, children begin to see themselves through a negative filter, which will stay with them throughout their lives.

But when we look into ourselves and understand where our self-critical attitudes and self-attacks come from, we will have more compassion for ourselves and our children.

Dan Siegel says: “Children are particularly vulnerable to becoming the target of the projection of our nonconscious emotions and unresolved issues. Our defensive adaptations from earlier in life can restrict our ability to be receptive and empathic to our children’s internal experience. Without our own reflective self-understanding process engaged, such defensive parental patterns of response can produce distortions in a child’s experience of relating and reality.:

Every parent has the experience, most often when reprimanding a child, of suddenly hearing the same critical statement that your parent said to you coming out of your mouth.

You are horrified; you can’t believe you are acting that way with your child.

The reality is that, in spite of parents’ best intentions, they will most likely reenact how they were parented.

Some parents experience this when their child passes through a stage of development that was particularly painful or traumatic in their childhood.

During these phases, parents often treat the child as they were treated at that age or as if their child was experiencing what they experienced.

In order to stop this reenactment of the past, parents have to face the painful feelings they experienced as a result of the treatment they received.

If they revisit the early traumas, they can identify the destructive attitudes that they internalized and begin to regain themselves.

They will then be able to offer the warmth, affection, love, and sensitive guidance necessary for their children’s well-being.

Psychologists have found that children really “do as parents do, not as they say.” Being a positive role model for good behavior is far more powerful than specific training or disciplinary measures in raising children.

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