It’s a pretty common belief born from traditional, authoritarian parenting that we should be “hard” on our kids now so that they’ll turn out to be productive citizens and stay our of trouble later. It’s part of the pay now or pay later philosophy, which isn’t a bad philosophy. In fact, I still believe that motto. Just in a different way, which you’ll see in a moment.
“Hey, I was raised that way and look how *I* turned out. ” That was my attitude a number of years ago if someone would have suggested to me to try some of the TBRI techniques on my children instead of going straight to ‘punishment’. If they did the crime, they do the time, right?
But the more I learned about these beautiful brains of ours, how they are designed to function and how things can go off track when a child experiences early abuse, neglect, and trauma, the less I wanted to contribute more to their shame core, and the less I wanted to be added to their long list of adults they feared. By inadvertently triggering the stress response in our children by our punishment methods, we disconnect from them and become their adversary, not their ally.
Children who are in a fight, flight, or freeze mode are stuck, and cannot process that we are trying to do right by them – what they actually experience in their bodies is that the very one who is supposed to help, is actually hurting and scaring them. Of course, we don’t want that for our children.
Most of us raising kids from hard places didn’t learn how early adverse experiences affect their developing brain. I did not understand the effect that early trauma had on my twins. I thought that my tried-and-true parenting techniques were the answer: just do more of what worked with my biological children. But my biological children already felt safe with me, for example. My adopted twins did not. It wasn’t until I began to directly meet their needs for feeling safe and cared for did I see them relax and settle into FAMILY. I either learn to meet their needs now (pay now) or I’m faced with big behaviors when they don’t learn to trust me (pay later).
To meet their emotional needs, I had to stop punishing my sons for misbehavior and instead focus on making soul connections with them. That is what can appear to be coddling, but in reality, it’s the first step in getting them to be able to respond appropriately down the road. Punishment takes a backseat (actually it gets booted in favor of discipline, from the root word disciple) while new neural connection in the brain get formed so that they can learn (perhaps for the first time ever) to trust another human being. Nurture is what they need before they can be expected to behave better.
Children need both structure and nurture, in equal measures, in order to be healthy.
When our children come to us with grave deficits in the nurture category, yes, we do need to focus more on ‘coddling’, and yes, from the outside looking in, it appears unbalanced. But we’re balancing from their history and that might mean going heavy-handed on connection and lighter on structure at times.
Most of us are more used to the structure part of the equation, so when we add more nurturing (and I’m talking about within the framework of our kid’s behaviors), it feels weird. It did for me, that’s for sure.
Something that helps to motivate me to get out of my structure comfort zone is to learn all I can about how childhood abuse changes the brain. Keeping this information fresh in my memory allows me to see beyond the behavior and underneath, to the true need they child is having.
I’d love to hear from you how you are balancing structure with nurturing in your own child. Let me know if I can help you bring more balance in this area.