Wednesday, April 5, 2017


Threat or Thrive?.. Common Parent Misfires

Parents are here to be the grandest of teachers, the most inspiring of guides and the strongest of protectors.

Working in beautiful Hawaii years ago, I had the grand fortune to be mentored by two Doctors of Philosophy in Sociology and several compassionate counselors in developmental and clinical psychology who shared my passion to lift the lives of children and families at risk. Aside from their impressive degrees what we learned is that we all have something to learn every single day. Instead of our jobs defining us we should define our jobs with empathy and humility, humans helping humans, lest we fail the lives we pledge to help. 

We should all be as humble as we wish children to be. A badge of authority and a rush for rightness can be a bad combination. Entitlement and impatience rarely reach justice. I couldn't be more serious when I urge everyone in a position of authority to put themselves into the very position they are condemning. Like crossing a street, slow down and take another look. 

The definition of a good parent should not be up for judgment but up for improvement at any time. There are so many different types of parents and ideally we'd all have unlimited patience, energy, flexibility, depth of understanding and brilliant parenting skills. But that is not always the case. Nor do we live in a perfect world! Parents juggle many outposts and bear momentous burdens all while raising our children.

Considering all that life throws at us, I yearn to share some kind tips that might help those harried reactions grow into pro-actions by bringing some parental diplomacy to the family table--- to the amazing but tough mission of raising our kids.

#1 MISFIRE: The Boss The child-parent bond is NOT one of boss and employee. It is closer to one of teacher and student except it is sewn by a deeply nurtured sense of trust. The bond a child has with a parent is the eternal pattern for all future connections with people. (I kid you not!  forgive the pun)

Alternative:  Ditch the need to be authoritarian, parents need to be better teachers not better punishers. You can ask for help in safe tasks around the home but don't expect a child to be your work horse and do your job. They are kids, not performers for love; they should have your unconditional love whether they help out or not. Always find time to sit and discuss such items with your children. When frustrated say, "Love and trust" first then repeat three times to negate the heated cauldron of harsh words. A child sensitized to this beneficial pattern will be shocked if another pattern is used and they learn to respond to subtle cues rather then harshness. (being able to  assess subtle signals is also a life skill) 

#2 MISFIRE: The One Word Answer  I urge all parents to negate this kind of lazy response; it teaches nothing. A child has to learn everything from scratch many times a day. It is a big world and the need to better understand it, produces a gobbling hunger for all the whys. The more you engage the developing brain in good explanations the smarter and more cohesive the child. One word answers short change this important hunger and teach the child NOT to be curious.

The Best Alternative: Explain your issue, your reasoning, instead of opting to just say, "No!" Does it require more time? Yes, but cultivating receptive ears for listening and good judgement takes creative explaining and a little more time. It will be worth it in the long run! 

#3 MISFIRE: Public Scolding: This is akin to shaming, embarrassing, ridiculing and belittling. Misbehavior or mistakes made by growing children should be handled in private. Ask yourself how would you like to be treated. How do you treat a friend or a co-worker that does something wrong. You have thoughtful dialogue and discussions, right? Creating a bond that is based on higher intelligence has to be orchestrated with higher intelligence. Sloppy parenting results in a bond that is weak or based on fear. Sloppy practices make for a sloppy bond. If we can't treat a child with dignity and respect than we don't deserve any in return. An audience isn't necessary to provide fundamental information to your child. Don't publically shame anyone.

The Alternative: Never ever say, "you are the reason for my stress or you deserve this." Take a moment to catch your sanity and then explain what you need your child to do and why it is helpful.  Allow a few minutes for the transition then ask again. Don't expect instant changes. Kids are not robots. Transitions are essential to children, always add in extra time for a transitional change in motion so they can still be kids and honor you as well. Be sure to praise them with a "Thank you," when they have shown a considerate response.

#4 MISFIRE: Yelling: Yelling was meant for emergencies, long distance communications and outdoor fun. Yelling done in anger and in the presence of children only serves the yeller and desensitizes the children to it. Maybe more parents would stop if they knew it reverses the desired outcome. Unhealthy practices are hard to stop, we understand but
YELLING DOES NOT WORK, in fact, it creates unnecessary cortisol that will soon prompt the child to tune you out and even creates yellers out of them. Talking is the tool of choice.

The Alternative: Cover your mouth, look up to the sky and say, "grant me patience." This little method really does change things. Sometimes the person you are snapping at may be having a harder battle in life than you know. Logically explain why a particular behavior may be wrong. Allow for transitions not instant changes, then commend them for their kindness in doing so.  "Thank you so much that really helps." Remember kids are people too.

#5 MISFIRE: Slapping or Spanking: In contrast to generations of spanking and or slapping almost all modern countries have banned spanking as well as many states. Still, these practices remain a hotly debated topic and have been used in many families for centuries. However, ask yourself what message you are sending to your child by lifting your hand to hit a person half your size?  Hmmm, let's think about this for a minute ...What you are saying is "Yep, it is okay to hit a weaker person." "Yep, it is okay to slap or pinch someone when I am frustrated." Yep, we are always justified to hit someone when they fail our expectations, especially if they are smaller than we are." .....Anger can get the best of us but please try and get yourself under control before addressing an issue with your child. We are truly sending the wrong message and the wrong solution when we slap, pinch or spank. It does not work!....Unless you want to teach fear, trauma and nullify a child's sensitivity to hurting others.

THE ALTERNATIVE: First make a commitment right at this moment to never hit, slap or assault your child in any way. Then, if you feel yourself heading into nowhere land, walk away and take 10 breaths. Remember, you want to teach restraint and coherent thinking so you must show that you too are capable of these skills. Be creative about your response to stress. Write them a note, draw figures on it illustrating their negative behavior. They will remember that better than a spanking. They may even giggle but you certainly have their attention in a digestible way. 

A fabulous study I witnessed years ago was done by one of the leading F.B.I. criminal profilers who held a casual town meeting in Northern Virginia. The purpose was to enlighten parents on how criminals are inculcated (produced) by their own parents. There is no greater influence on a child than his parents and sadly we do things without intending to cause desensitized outcomes. The most intriguing part of their research was that the more defiant a child is the more love and tenderness they need. If extreme defiance and misbehavior is met with equally extreme punishment and/or detachment the child leans into the negative even more.  The emotionally frustrated child or teen now finds further justification to be cold, cruel or punish others. Children that exhibit extreme behaviors need extreme love and nurturing to permeate, heal and open their hearts. Love opens channels of communication, punishment or detachment closes it down. Not all children are alike but those with extreme behaviors exhibit the greatest potential for violence if punishment or detachment ensues. Parents are front and center at the most critical stages in these situations and must engage in loving discussions to try and forge kinder patterns of behavior.

Taking advantage of "now" while the brain's mold is still receptive is huge for explaining compassion, love, morality and good decision making. Trying to engage an older teen later after the brain's receptive mold closes off will take years or maybe a lifetime to change. So the power of "now" or soon for brain engagement is huge! Parents have the unique opportunity to imprint a beautiful comprehensive storyline by showing that we care and investing in a million creative ways to help or mediate something. Using visual stimuli like emotional photos and germane movies, doodles and drawings can open doors to great discussions.

In our raptly demanding world we must not put our parenting on the back burner we give these little humans our priority in patience. In other words, be attached, teach and SHOW compassion in everything you do, discuss all their curiosities, creatively engage, don't just protect them be their advocate and love them with all your heart.  A connection of trust, positive discussions and playfulness will build strong legs to stand on where punitive acts fail. In other words, a nurtured child that has acquired moral agency will likely make good decisions for the rest of his/her life. We never know what tomorrow holds and we hope our children are penetrated by love and not by anger.

Please let me know what solutions you have found for creative parenting in the comments below. Thank you, Penman


  1. Though I agree with most of your misfires, I must add that I was spanked as a child and I am a pretty normal person.

  2. Yes, many of us were, as it was considered a common force of punishment. However, the thrust of the hand, belt or object upon a child's body is not something to throw off. It will cause cortisol to rise in the child, triggering a fight or flight hormone of fear and anger. Though you adjusted to this method there is no telling what neurological avenues this punishment blocked. There is no telling how your life might have been without this method used. Sensitivity opens many psychological doors. With time and creative parenting a child's brain can learn so much more. We are in an epidemic of mental health issues for children and teens in America and much of this is due to the pressure and expectations we put on our kids.


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