Far too often foster and adoptive parents focus all their attention on the change and healing that their child needs and ignore what needs to change in themselves. However, what you bring to the parent-child relationship matters—a lot. We all bring, as parents, our own history, motivations, and expectations into the relationship. In order to help your child build trust, heal and grow you need to focus on your past, your future, and your present. This allows you as a parent to be fully present in each and every moment to help your child heal.
Is Your History Getting in the Way?
Become aware of how your past may be affecting your relationship with your child and be open to change. This will require learning how to “pay attention to what you are actually paying attention to” (Dr. Curt Thompson). In other words, do you pay attention to your “default mode” of responding to your child’s behavior?
A large part of understanding your default mode of responding is to evaluate your attachment style which most likely developed in your early childhood. I wrote about this in this blog—What Is Your Attachment Dance? I encourage you to read that to find out your attachment style.
I recognized that I default to a dismissive style which means I will pull away when things get hard. Not exactly what my son who experienced abandonment needs from me. Instead I need to work on staying fully present. If I do that, my son has a better chance of learning how to relate and respond in relationships.
Own Your Stuff
When we encounter behavioral challenges and conflict with our children, it is important that we ask this important questions: What part of this is really about me? Which of my buttons are being pushed? Why does this bother me so?
Keep in mind that just because your own stuff may be getting in the way, it does not mean that you ignore or excuse wrong behaviors. Neither does it mean that you fail to correct. But it does mean that you need to be aware of what you are contributing to the dynamic, and then be willing to own your part in it and begin to address it so that you can be more fully available to meet your child’s needs and move forward together.
I find myself doing this in real time with my son. For example, he is struggling with the fact that his friends who live next door are moving very soon. At three and a half, he doesn’t know how to process it, but he acts out in different ways—clingy/separation anxiety, chewing on his clothing, deliberate disobedience, etc. Boy can his behavior push my buttons!
Many times I can I see how I am responding to him (or I notice my wife’s look!). Sometimes I can change my behavior or pay attention to how I am responding in order to stay in the moment with my son. This helps him regulate and relate better. Then other times either I have to remove myself from the situation or just watch it all blow up. Which leads me to another parenting tool:
Repair Your Mistakes
No matter how hard you try to get it right you will make mistakes. Believe it or not that’s not all bad! While you certainly would never intentionally make mistakes with your child, being intentional to quickly repair the mistakes you do make can make a tremendous difference for both you and your child. When you repair your mistakes quickly, humbly, and sincerely you are training your child because you:
- Model right behavior and healthy ways of relating. It helps your child understand that everyone in the family “owns their stuff” and that you solve problems together.
- Teach the importance of forgiveness and illustrate how it should look. This helps your child learn the value of forgiveness and gives her practice seeking and giving it.
- Promotes healthy brain development which helps your child create new synaptic connections in the brain (in your brain too!)
Want More? Watch Dr. Karyn Purvis explain how making mistakes can help your child grow (if you intentionally repair!)