I was at the grocery store today and the cashier’s isle that I was moving into had a young mother in front of me with a young son having a meltdown. He was crying, throwing a temper tantrum, while she was holding toys in her hands that he wanted her to buy. She was calm, patient, quietly talking to him, letting him have his feelings while some people were giving her dirty looks because her child was obviously acting out. She ignored the dirty looks and took care of her child in the most appropriate way possible. Research has shown that children learn by watching behaviors of others, in particular their parents and caregivers. I found myself speaking up and saying “you’re really a good mother. It’s hard to be calm and consistent in a public place when your child is having his feelings. Yet you’re setting your boundaries in a gentle way, allowing him to have his feelings and learn self-control. I just want you to know you’re doing a good job as a mother.”
I couldn’t help but wonder if all those people who were giving dirty looks to this mother had childhoods where they weren’t allowed to have their feelings? Emotional intelligence requires children to learn to identify their emotions and how to manage them successfully. Emotional intelligence does not easily occur for adults when expressing one’s feelings wasn’t allowed as children. Some parents spank their children for acting out in public. I don’t know what kind of childhood those people had, however I do know they looked triggered and seemed uncomfortable with the little boy having his meltdown.
After decades worth of peer-reviewed research, counselors know that spanking is counterproductive. In fact spanking has been proven to teach children to be aggressive. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard somebody say, “that’s the way I was raised, that was good enough for me, and it’s good enough for my child.” No it’s not, there are better ways to parent. Parents that make comments like that may have their own reparenting to do in order to handle their own discomfort when witnessing a child act out. Adults who were raised in homes that were neglectful, abusive, or highly dysfunctional may have been raised with adverse childhood experiences. Adults who had adverse childhood experiences may exhibit reduced parenting capacity or maladaptive responses to their children and experience physical and mental health issues from those experiences unless interventions occur. If you are an adult with adverse childhood experiences you may want to understand your health risks and/or seek the help of a therapist.
I have an appreciation for healthy parenting. Our culture tends to minimize the value of mothers, fathers, and healthy parenting, instead exemplifying work and financial success. Many parents have challenges parenting, and may unconsciously expect the school system and teachers to intervene in the raising children. Our schools and teachers are not a replacement for healthy parenting in the home. Healthy parents raise healthy children who will be making the decisions that influence our world. So it makes sense that we re-examine our priorities and recognize that the family and their children need to come first.
Healthy parents are very aware of how their actions and words affect their children. They are consistently affectionate, authentic and offer positive reinforcement with their children. Healthy parents lead by example, modeling good actions and behaviors, listening to their children and responding to their children’s needs directly. Healthy parents empower their children to define themselves, offering guidance and encouragement as their children learn how to appropriately express their feelings, communicate, and develop appropriate coping skills to manage stress, frustration, guilt and anger. Healthy parents help their children to become critical thinkers while assisting them with characteristics that will self-empower them. They teach through their actions how to be honest, empathetic, kind, self-reliant, motivated, and cooperative. They build their children’s self esteem in the process by consistently affirming and nurturing love, affection, and respect while minimizing criticism, blame and judgement. Healthy parenting is a hard job!
Which brings me back to the mother who exemplified healthy parenting. I could see stress on her face. It was uncomfortable for her, yet she did the appropriate parenting, teaching patience and self-control by example. So expecting our children to learn something different then we emanate in our behaviors is unrealistic. Our children are our mirrors.
Are we exhibiting healthy parenting skills with ourselves? Or do we need to learn how to reparent ourselves, to learn healthier boundaries, reducing anxiety and how to use appropriate coping skills for self-soothing? If so, then doing so is a win-win-win as it improves your life, enhances your children’s lives, and advances the lives of the world around us as we start setting and showing healthy examples in living.
So the next time you see a parent in a stressful situation being an excellent parent, please let them know it. We need more healthy people in this world and healthy parenting helps to create a better world.