Tag Archives: parenting

Feb ’22 Q&A Hitting a Wall? (Revising a conversation from May ’20)
Emotional Exhaustion

Q. I’m utterly overwhelmed. I’m resentful of those who have support from a partner and grandparents and guilty for feeling resentful. Frustrated that there’s no end in sight. Exhausted, emotionally and physically. Sad. I miss my family and friends. Lonely. 3 kids 1, 4 and 8 entirely on my own. Working 60 hours a week. Trying to be grateful I’m employed but there is no balance possible when you have 3 kids in tow. I don’t bathe or sleep without them and if I try, they scream or immediately ‘need’ me for something which is their anxiety showing up. It’s endless. How do I stay sane?

A. We’re on year three of a global pandemic and all of us, especially parents with young unvaccinated children or families with unpredictable child education schedules due to positive COVID cases, are still very much in the throes of it. If we thought we were exhausted in May, 2020, it’s certainly not gotten better for a lot of people. Maybe we’ve become more accustomed to our reality, but emotional stress among our hardworking families is very real and present.   

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Willful Defiance: A Lesson for Parents and Teachers

Defiant Child

We live in a school culture within a parenting culture that expects its children to fit in and embrace that culture.

For many children acculturation happens seamlessly. But for at least 1 in 5 children*, it requires giving up oneself, shifting off base, and surrendering to a non-nurturing authority. In other words, understanding that you are wrong and the other is right. Parents are expected to take on the role of enforcer using consequences, threats, punishment, withdrawal of what is most cherished—coercive tactics to manipulate children into being who they are expected to be. 

These are the children we see as defiant and oppositional. The square pegs society tries to fit into its round holes. And if they don’t adjust enough, they become the troublemakers, the problems, the ones we fear our children will grow up to be. These are the children who are tough to raise and who cause problems in classrooms. 

At home, they fight the rules and argue every direction given. Parents complain they never listen, won’t do as they’re told and refuse to comply. At school they are considered disruptive, attention-seekers. The problem worsens with reprimands, isolation, and punishment. Counselors are brought in but counseling that typically focuses on training the child to self-control, keep emotions in the “green zone”—messages that unintentionally say You’re not right the way you are. This “help” further identifies the child as the troublemaker, the one who can’t get along, the one who isn’t like the others who don’t need a counselor’s help. 

The message is loud and clear to all the “normal” children—this is the child with a problem, the one not to trust, to stay away from, to tattle on, to make fun of. All children are harmed in this process of coercion by isolation.

Why do we think making children feel alone and wrong is going to motivate them to do what we want? If they acquiesce, it is out of fear which leads to stress and anxiety. 

What we miss seeing in these children is their intense awareness of justice, of knowing what is not right for them, that they can’t, not won’t fit. These children have a sensitive litmus monitor to anything that does not feel fair to them (to them being the operative words). They tend to be smart, easily bored, charismatic (class clown), extremely loving, highly sensitive both emotionally and physically (too light, sound, smell, clothing, stimulation) and fiercely loyal. They want desperately to do the right thing, but they can’t do what someone else thinks is right if it doesn’t fit who they are. They have a strong sense of personal integrity. We miss these aspects because they can be so hard to get along with since their idea of what is right doesn’t fit with what is needed to maintain acclimation both at home and in the classroom. They resist, they fight, they cannot acquiesce.

I believe these are the potential leaders of the world when given the chance. But we do our best to censor them at every turn, so they are rarely able to meet their potential.

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  • First, we must acknowledge and support their “squareness” seeing it as different, not wrong. These children are often trouble-seekers, not trouble-makers*. They shine a light on hypocrisies, wrong doings, unreasonableness, and inequities in our culture. They are the canaries in our coal mines. Unfortunately, when we don’t listen to them, they can no longer listen to us. When we try to force them to change, they wither and become the real trouble-makers of society.
  • Instead of sending them off to therapists (although this can be helpful), we need to better support parents in doing the work that therapists do. Parents, therapists, teachers, principals all need a new mindset through which to view these children.

  • We need new and different schools in every community that are project and exploration based made just for square pegs. They need an environment that serves their way of thinking, that fosters their unique creativity. That square peg when supported, seen and heard for that unique perspective, could change the world.

  • This is hard for parents schooled in the I’m the parent and I know best philosophy when their behavior is not what is expected. Parents and teachers must step across the gap to stand shoulder to shoulder with these trouble-seekers so they learn to trust themselves and the authorities in their lives. Parents and teachers need to see the disruptive, attention-seeking behaviors as signals of their pain, frustration, confusion, powerlessness. They must learn how to connect with that emotional level, leaving the behavior aside. Punishing, reprimanding, threatening undesirable behavior denies everything that provokes it.

  • We must learn to address the child’s experience rather than insist the child understand and be considerate of ours. Once children feel accepted, consideration becomes easy. Acceptance doesn’t mean allowing all behavior. It means, I accept that you are feeling in a way that causes you to behave in this manner. Their emotions must be allowed as uncomfortable and inconvenient as they are, so we can learn from them, not shove them back inside to fester.

  • Instead of denying their emotions with There’s nothing to be upset or scared about or You’re fine or Calm down, we must help them feel okay by naming emotions, sharing our own, letting them know they are gotten. And not make them feel that the “green zone” is the only good place to be.

  • Their unacceptable behavior must be interpreted as cries for help, not as evidence for admonishment. Disruptive, provocative, rude, angry behaviors are the child’s attempts to be heard. Instead of ignoring, punishing or silencing that behavior, connecting with the need to be heard and understood will eventually calm the child. But when they are given the chance to be heard only under certain circumstances determined by the authority—using the right words and tone, at the right time, on the right topic, they are not usually cooperative because they still cannot trust themselves. They need to be heard even when what they are saying is inconvenient, angry, troublesome and provocative.

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    Child Abuse, the NFL, and the History of Slavery

    When I heard about Adrian Peterson’s switch-beating of his 4 yr. old son with all the gruesome details, I was filled with disgust. Then he claimed that he was brought up that way, and he did it to teach his son right from wrong. Ignorant of child development and playing out his own treatment, I thought—not to mention the power and privilege of his position with the NFL that apparently gave him the right. Then I heard Michael Eric Dyson on television and read his NY Times Op-Ed piece on the subject.

    Dyson, the author of sixteen books on subjects such as Martin Luther King Jr., Bill Cosby, and soon Obama, is a Georgetown sociology professor and outspoken and highly influential African American. Hearing his perspective opened my eyes.

    According to Dyson, black Americans have a distinct history with severe corporal punishment dating back to slavery. “Black parents beat their children to keep them from misbehaving in the eyes of whites who had the power to send black youth to their deaths for the slightest offense”, Dyson says. “Today, many black parents fear that a loose tongue or flash of temper could get their child killed by a trigger-happy cop. They would rather beat their offspring than bury them.” These fears are not unfounded.

    Before we dole out judgment and blame, we must acknowledge where the abusive behavior is rooted. Punishing the immoral behavior does not end the cycle. I for one think Peterson, Rice and all the rest should never be allowed to be in the public eye again where they are models for our young boys. But I would like to see Peterson stand up as a model for ending his cycle of abuse, which he can only do with help.

    Dyson sites the origin of the word punishment “…from the Greek word “poine” and its Latin derivative “poena,” which mean revenge.” It is human nature to retaliate and seek revenge when we are hurt or attacked. But it is the adult’s responsibility to understand child behavior so as not to feel attacked by normally impulsive, immature, egocentric behavior. It is not only the black community (an astonishing 70% of Americans believe in corporal punishment) that misunderstands how to eliminate inappropriate behavior and teach children to control their impulses.

    I could not agree with Dyson more than when he says, “The purpose of punishment is to coerce compliance and secure control, and failing that, to inflict pain as a form of revenge….” When will we grow as a society and understand the roots of our pain so we can heal and stop passing on the behaviors we were brought up with that planted that pain; the behaviors that instill fear; the behaviors that beget the same behaviors?

    Does Adrian Peterson consciously believe that his switch will prevent his son being killed by a cop’s gun, or is he unconsciously passing on the beatings his mother gave him (her admission) as the result of her fear of what would happen without her beatings? As I begin to understand the roots of these beatings in slavery, compassion replaces judgment. It is only through compassion that we as a culture can see the need for help and provide it.
    The argument that “I turned out okay” does not hold water. When we automatically and thoughtlessly re-enact treatment used on us out of fear, we are not okay. Nor is the next generation that suffers that abuse. Adrian Peterson and other celebrities recently in the spotlight may serve as our “whipping boys”. They may be punished severely rather than benched for a couple of games. But is this enough?

    Compassion for the history of the black family with its fears for a child’s life at the hands of the white man is poignant, terribly sad, shameful, and important for our understanding, yet it still does not condone violent treatment. Education is imperative. I would much rather see Peterson required to take parenting classes and become a spokesperson for breaking the cycle. What good will suspending him from football do his son?

    The question to all of us is, what fears at our backs are informing our parenting? Are we parenting effectively for each individual child or are we merely keeping the wolf from the door?

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