If you’re wondering if you’re failing because your child’s behavior isn’t what you’ve been aiming for, and you’ve been learning to use a connected parenting approach but you think maybe it’s not “working”–how can you feel confident in your connected parenting and know that you’re doing a good job? And how can you feel reassured that you’re teaching your kids *enough* to get along in the world?
Most of us have learned to evaluate ourselves and our children based on behavior, and as such, we judge ourselves harshly if our kids aren’t “measuring up”. I’ve wrestled with how to feel confident in my connected parenting, despite my “mistakes” and my child’s behavior, for 15+ years. Here’s what I’ve learned that has helped set my heart at ease.
Nervous system wiring takes time and repetition
When you focus on connection and regulation first, sometimes it can take a while until your child has developed enough of a foundation in their nervous system wiring that you see a more consistent change in their behavior. This is true regardless of age, but especially when they’re younger. There are lots of factors affecting this, but that’s another article.
And in fact, *sometimes* young children who are the most well-behaved have been treated harshly and are obedient because they’re afraid, and kids who seem a bit wilder in their early years turn out to be the ones whose behavior eventually sorts itself out and are unafraid to live life authentically and take risks. Each child’s situation is unique, but that type of authenticity always requires some foundational nervous system regulation.
Furthermore, even once your child has learned some self-regulation skills, when they encounter new developmental stages or stressors in their lives, their behavior can shift from appropriate and regulated ➡️ to inappropriate or out of control because of their inability to cope with the current stress.
These are just a few of the reasons that I encourage you not to compare your child’s behavior to other children, especially when evaluating your own parenting. That may sound obvious, but as a parent, it can be tempting to judge yourself as “bad” when your child’s behavior seems worse than everyone else’s.
At lease some nervous system regulation is required for intrinsically motivated behavior change
When you want to stay connected to your child, attunement and regulation always come before behavior unless safety is an issue. And sometimes, “bad” behavior is actually pretty normal for kids, especially when they’re younger.
The reality is:
- Children, especially when younger, haven’t yet learned to self-regulate.
- Children are born being really in touch with their emotions and desires, especially when younger, and will unabashedly express their emotions and ask for (or demand) what they want. That’s because they haven’t learned coping mechanisms of shutting down their desires in order to be loved.
- So if they’re angry or decide they want the toy that their playmate has, they’ll do whatever occurs to them that might work to get what they want. That might include hitting the child or having a tantrum–which relieves the pent up energy they’re feeling.
Connected parenting is the “long game”, and the result is confidence and authenticity
Parents who are able to see what their child needs in the moment, and support them to regulate without shutting down their emotions or authenticity, are teaching their kids to speak up for themselves and nurturing their confidence.
And that’s what we’re looking for in our kids ➡️
Confidence to speak up despite peer pressure, and the self-awareness to know what they want for making decisions in life.
The biggest parenting challenge
The biggest block to helping our kids to stay connected to their instincts and desires, and ultimately have that type of confidence, is getting emotionally triggered ourselves, and (subconsciously) shutting down their emotions.
Connected parenting is the middle road between authoritarian and permissive styles, and it requires us to practice noticing our feelings and regulating ourselves so we can stay present with (ourselves and) our children as they express their emotions.
You’re only able to help your child learn to calm and regulate when you’re regulated yourself.
It’s a journey, not a destination
Therefore, “success” in connected parenting is about committing to practicing attuning to yourself and your child, and to practicing connected strategies daily. It’s about taking small steps–whatever you’re able to do in the moment. It’s not about whether your child is well behaved or whether you get it right every time.
For example, every time that you do one of the following:
- pause before speaking and do your best to use connecting or compassionate words, or
- realize you’ve misstepped, use your tools to calm and regulate, and then go back and repair when you’re ready, or
- reflect on how your child responded to your parenting strategy and try to determine whether you were accurately attuned or not, or
- start again after being discouraged, and re-commit to doing your best today,
then you’re successfully doing connected parenting. To use a cliché, it’s a journey not a destination.
It’s a daily practice.
You may sometimes need to evaluate the situation, try to gain insight to what your child needs, and decide on a different parenting approach. However, it’s important to try to stick with a connection practice for long enough to give an opportunity for behavior to change, unless it’s very obviously not helpful or making things worse.
You will make mistakes and missteps (everyone does), and then the practice is to forgive yourself, soothe and regulate yourself, repair, and start again. If you grew up in a home where your parents didn’t emotionally attune to you very much, give yourself lots of time and lots of grace. It may take longer to change patterns; everyone is a bit different.
The “gold” is to remember that it’s a practice
So if your child’s behavior isn’t what you’d hoped for, I encourage you not to judge your parenting as bad, but to remember that learning connected parenting is a practice, and connected parenting practices have an impact over time. Get curious instead of judging yourself, and get help if you need it.
Every time you come back to practicing connection, you’re having some success.
For me, the three things that were most helpful have been: (1) learning skills for regulation, (2) practicing as regularly as possible, and (3) getting support when I needed it. My efforts and learning have been a great gift to myself, my son and my family.
I hope this brings you some relief, and reminds you to be gentle with yourself as you practice.
I’m available to support you if needed.
*Image Credit: Unsplash, Ilya Pavlov