Parenting is a beautiful contradiction. A push and pull of shedding parts that no longer serve you, losing yourself and finding more of yourself. Without a doubt, parenting is the ultimate highway to personal growth. And nothing brings your shadows into focus more than the reflections your children offer.
Most of us are a result of generations who believe that in order to teach a child we must first hurt them.
- If you had strong emotions, you were told to “stop” or “be good,” and if you didn’t, something you were excited about was canceled.
- If you misbehaved, you were removed to “think about what you’ve done.”
- And, if you failed to listen to the adults in your life, something you loved was taken away.
These forms of guilt, shame, blame, and punishment can inflict wounds with messages of being unsafe, unloved, and not enough. And these narratives often show up in adulthood, especially when we are face to face with our children’s misbehavior, big emotions, and bouts of “not listening.” Because humans are wired to mirror the nervous systems of those around them, likely, if we were raised where shame and pain were the names of the game, we, by default, often pitfall into using fear and separation-based tactics when child-rearing.
According to Viki de Lieme, life and parenting coach and Nonviolent Communication (NVC) specialist, “We are not used to thinking about children as whole human beings who have needs and feelings. We are used to thinking in terms of discipline and obedience, and this is why parenting is so hard. We think in expressions of right and wrong, which builds internal barriers between us and our children.”
De Lieme explains that when we look through this lens, we react to our child’s “wrongness.” “The parent chases the tail of misbehavior rather than leading, guiding, and teaching from a place of calm. When we get stuck in this reactive parenting, we operate in a way where, for us to show up as a parent, our child must first do something undesirable, and it leaves us in a cycle of constant battle.”
“The key to understanding our children,” says de Lieme, “is to internalize that behavior is the last link in the human experience. There’s actually a need, thought, and feeling that comes first, and these factors determine the behavior we see. Once we get to the root of misbehavior via a big dose of connection, we gain a monumental opportunity to become leaders our children choose to follow.”
We have the power to change our children's behavior - the question is how we do it?
The answer is not through overpowering and controlling. The answer is in mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of being with the current moment with joy and ease, allowing us to see and experience what is rather than what we think it is.
These practices become a bridge that connects our inner child to our offspring, not only to heal the wounds within that affect how we perceive our children (and the world) but to move past shame, blame, and punitive parenting measures - to break generational cycles of trauma. Through mindfulness, we have an opportunity to see and hear our children in the way that we wanted to be seen and heard as a child.
Parenting is an embodied experience. It isn’t about right and wrong but rather about connection. “When we become open, curious, and willing to understand what's going on, we start building new connections, not only with our children but also with ourselves,” says de Lieme.
How To Heal Your Inner Child While Raising One
Often, when punitive measures were used to reform our behaviors as children, it can be a challenge to step outside controlling, demanding, and commanding our children's experience, especially in the face of big emotions and misbehavior. So, how do we heal our traumas while raising children? Here are 3 tools.
1. Go Within
Changing our child’s behavior starts with reflecting on our own. When we lack the emotional capacity to be with our children’s big emotions, we often see an increase in the behaviors we wish to change. But when we take care of ourselves, we are able to radiate the energy of connection and find a sense of peace and patience in the face of our child’s big emotions and challenging behaviors. As a parent, we can achieve this by:
- Acknowledging triggers as pain teachers. When your child misbehaves, what energy shows up for you - anger, frustration, fear, sadness, feelings of unworthiness? Once you recognize the emotion driving your thoughts, you can choose to heal past traumas and write new narratives.
- Finding clarity on your needs. When we think of what we want, we usually think in terms of strategies or behaviors. Yet when we think of family life this way, we're forever trying to change how other people show up to the world. For example, you may say, “My kids need to go to bed!” But underneath that is a personal need, which may be communicating something like, “I really need some time for myself.” Make a list of needs that focus on your thoughts, feelings, and actions, and then communicate them using “I statements.”
- Giving yourself time to regenerate. For many parents, self-care is hard - whether there is parent guilt or just lack of time. Start by finding 30 seconds every hour to sit down and do nothing. Or schedule 5 minutes a day to sip your tea in quiet. Or, sometimes, self-care is just slipping away to take some deep breaths and reset when you feel your triggers bubbling.
When we fill our cups, we shift out of our own fight, flight, and freeze mechanisms which causes us to be more reactive, and we begin to accept ourselves and our children with more courage and compassion.
2. Agree To Accept
Each family has its list of high-stress topics … bedtime rituals, back-talk, homework, screen time, sensory overwhelm, and more. When we engage in the same power struggle day in and day out, it builds a wall of disconnection between us and our children.
The first step to changing behavior is to accept it. This doesn't mean that we agree to the behavior or allow its continuation but rather that we pause and validate the feelings underneath without attempting to correct it. Doing so gives us a foundation of connection to teach and guide from and it allows us to stay curious about unmet needs and lagging skills. Start by making a list of daily power struggles in your home, and ask yourself - What does accepting this mean for me?
3. Teach When Regulated
As you and your child shift from your reactive brains and into a calmer, more receptive state, it is then that you can teach lessons and undeveloped skills. Using a Time-In, you and your child can explore the emotions that drove the behavior, discuss possibilities for future moments, and practice making amends. With consistency, each time we help our children recall a feeling and link that feeling to an experience and share it, new neural pathways are created, connecting the emotional brain to the learning brain.
And this isn’t just for our kids. If we were raised with punitive measures or experienced trauma, it is likely that emotional expression and regulation are a challenge for us, too. As we raise and teach our children using feeling charts and connection tools, we regenerate the parts of our brain that have been suppressed.
We are parents who are healing generational wounds and shaping future generations. To create a more connected and emotionally healthy world, we must walk hand-in-hand with the child-parts of ourselves and the little humans who we are parenting. When we bridge the gap, we realize that we aren’t that different. In fact, we are on the exact same team, learning and growing together.
Viki de Lieme is a life and parenting coach and a Nonviolent Communication (NVC) specialist. She firmly believes that the journey to the world we all want to live in begins with every parent who chooses to parent from the heart.