Do you sometimes find yourself tongue tied when trying to communicate with your child?
Does your tendency to freeze, sometimes, cause you to feel like you are failing at being a responsive parent?
The fact that you are even taking the time to reflect on your thoughts, feelings and behaviours and make an effort to reconnect with your child, demonstrates how you ARE practicing responsive parenting.
Responsive parents can put so much pressure on themselves, to say and do the “right” thing, all the time, that they find themselves lost for words. This feeling of not knowing what to do is part of the reflection process, however, we sometimes take it as a failure. If we end up saying or doing the “wrong” thing, we see this “failure” as a demonstration of our parenting in general. Instead of feeling guilty about not always saying/doing the “right” thing, let’s try to celebrate our achievement; we engaged in meaningful reflection, either during or after. Reflection and connection are the goals of the responsive parent, not perfection.*
This pause that we experience, is nothing to fear. It’s actually something to be celebrated. It is basically your brain stopping at a fork in the road. It’s as if for years you’ve gone down this one road (likely paved in your childhood) then as you are driving along, you notice a small beaten path you never saw before. You stop the car and get out. You don’t know what’s down that path, it would be easier to keep driving but the path is calling you. You aren’t sure how to start down such a rugged path but you know you want to. It is not a failure if you stumble a bit on that path. It is an achievement that you stopped the car. The pause is the success, so try to reframe that moment of empty space and you may find your anxiety decreases as you become less fearful and more appreciative of the pause.
When we take that moment to reconnect with our inner peace, instead of allowing the anxiety to take over, we can plug into our logical and empathetic brain (respond), rather than our animal brain (react). But we panic about not knowing what to say or do and because our child is dysregulated or doing something unsafe, we feel a need to respond immediately. That is our animal brain responding to a threat of danger to our child or danger to ourselves (our ego in this case).
We should try and give ourselves as much grace as we give our children. When our child makes the same mistakes over-and-over, do we then see them as a failure of a child? No! They are seen for what they are, which is a child learning about the world. Everyone on the responsive parenting journey is learning. They are learning about their children, themselves and the world we all live in. We are deconstructing and reevaluating the perception of childhood. Often this involves an element of reflecting on our own childhood. When we are still healing from the hurts and fears of our youth, we can become overwhelmed by emotions and thoughts, during some more challenging parenting moments. The process of reflection allows us to turn a challenging moment into a healing experience.
When your child does not “listen” or they become dysregulated, you may notice your fear responses kicking in;
Flight ✈️ You feel like you need to get away from your child.
Freeze🧊 You don’t know what to do or say, usually afraid to make the “wrong” choice.
Fight 🥊 You feel the need to correct the behaviour through the use of power and fear. This sounds awful but most of us feel this way sometimes. It’s instinctual; our inner child shows up and finally feels powerful because you are physically larger than your child and regardless of your parenting, innately you know you hold some authority over them, whether you use it or not.
You may also have combinations of these reactions:
You don’t know what to do 🧊 so you send them to their room ✈️
You feel like you need to get away from their strong emotions ✈️ so you try to scare them into stopping their meltdown 🥊
You may freeze at first 🧊 and then feel enormous pressure to resolve the situation ✈️ but you don’t know what to do in the moment 🧊 so you react by yelling 🥊 and/or by sending them to their room ✈️
How we react to our children’s behaviour and emotions is often a reflection of our own childhood experiences. This is what makes these situations so emotionally charged. We have to process these experiences and the feelings we have associated with them, in order to heal. If you react instead of respond, reflection can be a powerful tool to turn a challenging situation into a healing and learning experience.
1. How did fear impact my response? Try and map it out like above.
2. What were my child’s intentions? Try to empathize with, and reflect on your child’s perspective.
3. What factors, environmental or otherwise, impacted my child’s behaviour and/or reaction? This is where you may consider development or context.
4. What could I have said/done differently?
5. How can I reconnect with my child?
Pick one interaction, 1-3 times a week and use this example to practice reflection, using a journal, your phone, in your mind and/or discuss your reflection with your closest parenting partner (this can be a great way to start introducing responsive parenting to a parenting partner. Introducing them to your own struggles and thought process is a very non-judgemental way to open up the discussion).
*Paraphrased sentence: The phrase “Reflection and connection are the goals of the responsive parent, not perfection” is paraphrased from a few very popular sayings. The first, “connection, not perfection” is a cornerstone of the Bounce Back Parenting Approach. This article by Alissa Marquess (https://bouncebackparenting.com/connection-not-perfection/) explains how this phrase influences and guides their approach to parenting. The second phrase, “strive for progress, not perfection” was made popular by Dr. David Perlmutter, who uses this phrase to inspire people to live healthier lifestyles. The third phrase, “reflection, not perfection” is found in various educational and religious resources, however, I was not able to trace it’s origin.