Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Mummy is a Mirror

Why Authoritarian Parenting Doesn't Work

After the birth of twins, sleep deprived and alone at home balancing the needs of three children, I lost my touch on reality. Worse than that, I detached from my son.

I instinctively parented him in an attachment parenting style from birth, and then at my lowest ebb, resorted to a position of authority - you do as I say. I started to use punishments more frequently, and empathy melted away as the days went on.

The more I punished him, the worse his behaviour. This boy was hurting, supplanted and lost, he desperately sought any attention he could get.  He couldn't breathe wrong for fear of being chastised.

He felt unloved. I could tell him that I loved him unconditionally, because I lost sight of the most important thing which was how he actually felt. If you use conditions in the form of praise, rewards, punishment, then to them love IS conditional because it's withdrawn unless their behaviour fits your rules.  What sense did it make for me to tell him not to shout when I shouted, not to destroy things or be messy when I showed him how?

And the result? An extremely unhappy child.

Unhappy because boundaries were imposed punitively. Unhappy and angry because I was unhappy and angry. I startlingly realised he was my mirror. He reflected back everything I hated about myself.

I now see very clearly that children learn the most effectively by modelling. Self led learning is the most effective and enjoyable method for children.   Whenever I forget to trust him to learn when he's ready, when I think I know best - I find my "teaching" isn't at all effective and creates boredom and resentment.

That isn't to say our house doesn't have rules or boundaries.  It's just that they're generally modelled now instead. For example, I help him to follow our house rule about treating others with kindness by showing him kindness and understanding, demonstrating respect and relationships, setting him up for success by putting him in good social situations, removing him when he is unable to help hurting, showing regret for hurt to others, and helping him to make amends when he feels genuine remorse.  He doesn't wear shoes in the house, he sits at the table when we eat, he drinks out of a cup and always uses a plate, generally when he goes outside he puts on shoes, etc - I didn't tell him to do those things but he learnt them well.

As soon as my act is fully together, I am confident that his behaviour will return along with his happiness. I am also the leader in the sense that I model "acceptable" behaviour and shape the day, offering him choices and opportunities to develop.

I also discovered that 4.5 year olds have a testosterone surge and that of effects their behaviour, making them more temperamental and tearful, and a bit obsessive about super heroes and fighting. ( Eureka moment!) I also discovered that the infections he keeps getting are all related and affect his behaviour because, well it makes him feel out of sorts. This further impounded my change of heart to be more nurturing and responsive.

Just the other day, I started making food and he naturally joined in. A partnership.  Not because I coerced or manipulated, but because he wanted to.

And because he was helping of his own free will, he enjoyed it. Then he helped me clean, and then tidy, because he wanted to.

Research shows that children who are exposed to cry it out methods, or whose cries are ignored, actually have damage to their brains. You see during childhood the brain is  mapped between different areas. This mapping has a huge effect on how one functions in later life. The prefrontal cortex is the higher brain, the higher thinking brain allows us to make calm, reality based decisions. If children are parented in a loving, nurturing way they are more likely to use this part of the brain than the amygdala. In plain speak, more responsive parenting leads to a happier, more balanced child with less likelihood of your child being depressed, suffering educational, behavioural problems in later life. (Dr Margot Sunderland)

Research also indicates that praise is a dampener of learning for children. Time and time again studies show that when praised, children perform a task well but they are less likely to try the activity again and loose all interest or enjoyment of it. Moreover children who are praised do things for approval and are fearful of failure.

So yes, I agree, authoritative parenting and punishments and rewards, and cry-it-out are all good parenting methods if you're aiming for obedience and short term gain.  I'm aiming for unconditional love, in a playful, safe, nurturing environment.

Dr Margot Sunderland
Alfie Kohn
Lawrence Cohen
Sue Gerhaurt
Dr Penelope Leach
Naomi Aldort
Dr Sears
Jean Lideloff
Althea Solter
Scott Noelle, Attraction Parenting

1 comment:

  1. Once again: yes! I am sad you and your boy had to go through this but maybe you had to in order to get to where you are today.

    We are against any form of punishment or praise. Yes, we cheer and clap and are happy when she did something great (like climb up the steps for the very first time) but we don't bark out 'well done!' every time she so much as breathes. I hope we can be as conscious and nurturing.

    You should send this to Supernanny...that woman is ruining children's lifes single handedly (well, not quite..she's got her friends Gina and Tizzie :s)