For World Mental Health Day tomorrow, the 10th October, I write not in support of abuse (and whatever your subjective idea of that is) but for awareness of the world that creates abusers and the justice system in which they are managed. A world […]
Abusive. A word that generates anger, hate and a complete unwillingness to understand abusers. But I think we all have the potential to be abusers.
Looking at parenting specifically, we all have struggles, some more than others. We don’t talk about it but most people have felt like hurting their child at one point or another, many have submitted to the urge.
Some lucky parents may avoid these feelings because they were fortunate to have been born with a set of genes that offer them great emotional regulation, stress management and patience. Maybe they were raised in a respectful, loving, supportive home and didn’t suffer any trauma throughout their lives. Maybe they have a great support network or full time childcare.
Most of us though, aren’t that lucky. And those of us that manage to pull ourselves back from acting upon our darkest reactions do so through an intentional desire to be a good parent and protect our children.
I am in awe of every parent out there reading parenting books, talking to other parents, looking after themselves and taking the time to self-reflect. These and many other techniques help us protect our children (and partners) from ourselves. And it isn’t easy.
Any parent of a baby with colic will know the feeling – you may have screamed or sworn at your baby to stop crying, been rougher in your handling of them, gone somewhere else and left them alone screaming at the top of their lungs, just to get away from the noise for a bit.
Nobody who hasn’t had a baby will understand it. You think that because it’s your baby that you love more than anything else in the world, it should make the noise easier to bear. But it doesn’t. It’s harder.
Because it’s not about the noise. Yes it’s stressful for the human brain to deal with loud, repetitive noise (which is the point of it – it drives us to help the child) but it’s the stress we feel of NOT being able to help our child that’s the real stress trigger. It’s on a larger scale but on the same spectrum as the stress of them not eating. We love them so much we can’t cope if we feel we can’t take care of them.
I think a lot of this is a modern problem – at a simpler time, before we knew too much, we didn’t worry about these things so much, kids ate because they were hungry (and didn’t have access to all these tastebud disrupting foods and chemicals) and parents didn’t create a stressful mealtime environment with their worry.
Babies didn’t cry alone while the parents wished them to sleep, because they just slept together. When no reason was deciphered for the crying there was a community around to share the responsibility. Babies and children spent a lot more time in nature so there weren’t many stimulants in the environment.
There are many, many things in our modern world that create stress and stress is the number 1 reason for treating anybody in a disrespectful way.
Very few people intentionally want to hurt their child. They become stressed – which usually stems from fear; the fear that I’m a terrible mother, that my child will grow up with psychological issues, that there’s something wrong with my child, that I’m not cut out for this, that there’s something I should be doing – I just can’t figure it out, that I’m weak, or stupid or wrong.
I haven’t spoken to a single parent who doesn’t feel these things, and parenting is one of the hardest things most of us will ever do. Nobody tells you all of this, and nobody supports you through your darkest fears. Probably because we don’t tell them.
Personally, I struggle when my children don’t do what I want no matter how calm I’ve remained. The feeling of having no control takes me right back to my own childhood where I had no autonomy and the desire to use my power to put the control back in my court is often too strong for me to resist. Because I spent my whole life since leaving home clinging to that autonomy, it’s very hard for me. These are often the times I end up shouting.
Those of us who were punished with physical harm as children usually (maybe always?) have a subconcious reaction to hit our children during times of stress. Usually when being hit by our children or feeling out of control with them. Or maybe just after a long, stressful day.
Many of us try our hardest to restrain ourselves and so end up shouting instead. But you know what they say – shouting is the new smacking. My experience is that psychological abuse can be much worse than the physical kinds. Psychological abuse can include shouting, threatening, shaming, name calling, criticising, negative body language/mood and love/affection withdrawal.
Obviously there is no clear line as to where acceptable behaviour crosses over into abuse. And I truly, truly believe that most abusers don’t set out to abuse. If you look at the psychological profile of many abusers you will find they were brought up in an enviroment where they had no control and emotions were punished. How are you supposed to handle your child’s extreme emotions if you learnt to shut yours down in childhood?
Things we may have swept under the rug are unleashed when we have kids in an almighty storm. I believe children are our greatest teachers and force us to really look at ourselves. In many cases this is a good thing and it helps us shed our demons and reach a somewhat peaceful place in which we can build a strong, authentic bond with our children. For some people though, either they haven’t found a way to resolve these issues, they aren’t aware it’s a problem or the trauma is too great and they are afraid to begin the healing process.
It’s well known that people repeat parenting methods/phrases used on them. Often these are unwanted and usually show up when we’re stressed, tired and worn out. For those of us who grew up in an abusive home it can get very tricky and acting out any of those unwanted behaviours leads to guilt, shame and fear. And the cycle continues.
Being aware of your feelings – however unwanted – is crucial. Once you can recognise the signs, you can take a break and calm yourself down and then put a self care plan into place.
If you have any unresolved issues – maybe something from your childhood – take steps to resolve them. Therapy is the first step here and the type and length will differ depending on the issue.
The main thing I want to say about therapy is that – yes it will bring things up you may not want to think or talk about but actually that isn’t as bad as you think – I found it very cathartic. Like, finally I could release all the thoughts that had been trapped in my head, twisting and turning and waking me up in the night. But once they’re out and well – nothing happens; the therapist doesn’t look at you with shame or distaste and life just carries on – you realise you’ve blown it up into something way bigger than it is or needs to be. And then you can begin to heal.
Many things helped me on my journey but I don’t think I would have got to those, or got as much out of them, without the therapy.
Buddhism, freedom from addiction (even if it’s just relying on wine or sugar for stress), exercise, getting enough sleep, eating well, relaxation and doing things you love are all self care practices that will help. Having a bubble bath, reading a book, watching a funny film or taking a walk; find what you love to do, helps you relax and means you don’t have to think about anyone else for a period. Make it as essential as changing nappies and putting dinner on the table.
If you are a parent relating to this, just know – you’re not a bad parent, you’re not permanently damaged and you CAN get through this. You got this far in the article – you clearly care deeply about providing a healthy environment for your children and taking care of yourself. What more can a parent give?
If anyone would like to discuss this one to one in further detail I would be more than happy to see if I can help – at no cost – just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org ❤️
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Does that word fill you with dread? So many people hate exercise and either put it off or avoid it completely. But I think that’s just because they haven’t got to the sweet spot.
So many of us are time starved, overworked and overstressed. So we feel justified in skipping workouts or not working out at all until a more suitable time in our life comes along. That time will never come though. Exercise is one of those things that anyone can fit into their schedule, if they really want to.
This is where it’s important to have got into a good mindset and have your diet down because starting exercise after a period of none is HARD. There will be sweat, probably tears and lots of DOMS (the after workout pain that follows the next day, and often the next, and sometimes a week later). Your brain will start to tell you you’re fine how you are and this is actually making you more tired – how am I supposed to take care of my toddler who kept me up in the night if I’m even more tired and in pain from working out??!
But that period is relatively short. If you can squeeze in a few workouts a week, or even single exercises here and there – a few jump squats while your kids are on the slide anyone? A few situps while your little one does a puzzle? And stick it out – you will start to feel.. awesome!
I had this same dilemma after my little girl was born. I had a son already and I was suddenly left with NO free time. Or so I thought. But my weight was shifting really slowly and I just felt tired and sluggish and not how I was used to feeling for most of my life. I’ve always been pretty slim and agile and I just felt like everything was an effort – climbing the stairs, running for the train, playing with the kids. I didn’t like the feeling of being held back so I vowed to do something about it.
I got my mindset right, sorted my diet and started doing very short workouts here and there – literally 4 minute tabata workouts and odd exercises here and there while the kids were playing. It was actually fun as the kids joined in too which has led to some family exercise sessions – an unexpected benefit! They are actually asking me to buy them their own exercise mats so I call that another win in the parenting bank!
I managed to get in a jog here and there too but that was harder to fit in so I got some easy workout DVDS and started working out first thing in the morning (I workout best first thing, fasted) or at lunch when my daughter napped. I started out with Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred, Josie Gibson’s 30 Second Slim and Charlotte Crosby’s 3 Minute Belly Blitz.
I would highly recommend the Josie Gibson one first as it’s only 20 minutes, you can go as slowly as you like, each exercise length is short and there’s lots of breathers where they explain the exercises. This gets annoying when you’re fitter but it was my absolute favourite starting out – the exercises are great and really effective.
30 Day Shred is also great but I was in so much pain after my first few times of Level 1 so take it easy and don’t push yourself if it hurts too much. Also make sure to rest and recover in between workouts – you DON’T have to workout every day. The pain will lessen over time if you give your body the right tools to perform and recovery is essential. I would advise an extra stretch after Level 1 as they are very short. Also this roller stick is amazing. I have a standard foam roller and it has nothing on this thing. Be sure to use this before and after your workouts. I sometimes use it during as I get serious quad burn.
The Charlotte Crosby DVD is brilliant. But it’s long. You can do it in bits, or just do as many levels as you can in the time you have. I used to do this, just see how many I could get through until I HAD to be somewhere else. If you can stick with it though and get to the end you will really see benefits. I burnt more fat doing this workout than any other.
There are also excellent beginner workout videos on youtube. I can recommend HASfit videos, Joe Wicks and Shona Vertue but just have a browse on youtube and find something that works for you. There are all different kinds of workouts and lengths of time. I love Sadie Nardini too and you can buy her workouts very cheaply. She gives lots of modifications to suit all abilities.
A tip I really recommend is getting a pull up bar. I got this one and it’s been the best thing I could’ve done for my strength. I’ve been extremely busy lately starting a new business and haven’t been doing many full workouts but I’ve managed to fit in a few leg raises a couple of times a day and my abs are thanking me for it.
So pick something and just get started, a bit here and there but make it regular and fit it into your routine.
The benefits of exercise go way beyond the usually touted benefits – you start to feel powerful, positive and capable of anything. I’ve heard some amazing success stories of things people achieved once they got fit.
Yes it’s hard to get started and I still have to force myself to work out sometimes but excuses really are just that and once you stop finding reasons not to do it and start making it a priority you WILL feel better and I bet even find you have more time in your day. You will sleep better and have more energy and way more optimism and general good mood.
A friend of mine is extremely inspiring. She pretty much works out an hour a day, every day. Eats an excellent diet and is awesome at goal setting. All this with 2 young children. I’ve known her to work out while her little one naps after being kept awake most of the night. She was highly motivating for me in my journey starting out as I realised if she can do it, I have no excuse.
Once you’ve broken the back off of this exercising lark you can begin to create your own workouts or follow simple workout plans like the ones I’ve created. They’re 10 minute workout sessions with workouts of a minute each. Some have 5 exercises you repeat, some have 10 exercises. I pick according to how much variety I’m feeling or how hard I want to go. They’re great because as long as you have your phone with an interval timer and the list of workouts you can do it anywhere.
Most workouts I do now are on my deck in the garden before the sun has reached my garden. It’s a really invigorating way to start the day. I will share some of these workouts in the coming months so stay tuned!
You can do this!!
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2 of the most popular methods to manage children’s behaviour at the moment are rewards and praise.
You can’t give enough praise, they say. And give them a reward for good behaviour. That way they’ll be conditioned to do the thing we want them to do again. You know, like you do with dogs.
Sometimes it’s hard to get our head around concepts that seemed so benign in our pre child existence or even our early child rearing stages. I always felt a little uncomfortable with certain aspects of parenting that are commonly used, and widely accepted, but as a first time mum with no experience of children or healthy role models I had to learn from other people and books. I didn’t feel confident enough, or know enough to assert myself on these issues.
Fortunately a lot of the books I read were respectful parenting books and the problems with rewards and praise were discussed there, which put theory behind these niggles I was having. It still felt relatively abstract though so I dabbled here and there until I could get a feel for my own parenting style and let some of the theories settle in.
I’ve always tried to be an authentic parent who models the behaviour I respect and would like to teach my child. If I don’t want my children to lie, I shouldn’t lie to them. Praising when no praise is due is essentially lying and giving rewards in exchange for good behaviour is basically bribing and manipulating.
There’s a ton of research showing that praise and rewards actually remove the child’s intrinsic motivation. Praise can encourage them to perform but only for the satisfaction of the reward – our approval. Their true sense of pride is dampened and they become people pleasers.
Studies on rewards have shown that the children not receiving a reward for their participation in an activity enjoyed the activity much more and were more likely to continue or repeat the activity. Children given rewards get into a bartering system where they won’t do anything until you agree to give them something for it. Nothing is done for the good of the family, only what they can get for it. It’s based on this old school thinking that you have to manipulate and control children into behaving the way we want as they couldn’t possibly do it out of love and respect for the family.
The biggest problem for me with rewards is that it is essentially a punishment. If the child doesn’t or can’t perform how you want them to, you take away the reward they had been so looking forward to. This leads them to become self critical, hitting their self esteem.
Ironically, we gave rewards a try when my son was going through a period of real low self esteem and struggling to perform many of the tasks he ‘should be doing at that age’, at the request of an Early Help Support Worker. Sure enough, the problem wasn’t him not getting himself dressed in the morning anymore, it was the utter disappointment and shame he felt when he was so tired or emotionally low that he just couldn’t do it. The days he really just needed his mum to come and help him and care for him and love him. And I was supposed to take away his treat. It just felt evil.
It was worth doing it as I then knew why I was instinctively so against it and also I realised that kids all have different capabilities. Yes, he struggles with a lot of things at 6 that my daughter at 2 can quite easily do, but is that a reason to reward her and not him? Like I mentioned in my tantrums post – the children who find it easiest get the most rewards – how is that even slightly fair?!
So for the child who fulfilling others’ expectations doesn’t come easily, they have to try very hard to figure out what people want from them rather than learning naturally, in time, in a more authentic, honest way.
My husband also pointed out that rewards are just another form of control and so many behavioural issues stem from the child’s lack of control.
Giving food as a reward brings the added problem of emotional eating. We can all relate to eating chocolate, or drinking wine as a ‘reward’, a ‘treat’ or in times of commiseration. I don’t think this is healthy and wish it wasn’t so hard for me to break those habits.
And yet another problem is that instead of living in the present, they’re living for some future reward. This is a problem for adults too and strangely enough just came up in the book I’m listening to – The Entrepreneur Revolution. Many of us do work we don’t enjoy and then reward ourselves come payday. But how much better would life be if we enjoyed our work, our life and our present. Instead of teaching our children it’s normal to endure things they don’t enjoy, how about we focus on allowing them to find enjoyment in the present.
So I am now a more empowered parent trusting my instincts to lead me right and getting to know my children’s individual abilities and struggles even better. And to try to handle as much of it with love and patience as I can instead of using disconnecting power plays. The reward we get from that is all we need..