Having a child can be a surprise or a happily planned addition to the family, however, there is always the fear of not raising a child right or of not being a good enough parent. Not many know that this fear stems from either experiencing or witnessing an unhappy childhood. Some mental illnesses such as anxiety and anger can hinder one’s ability as a parent. The best way to prepare for parenthood, so your child stays untouched by dysfunction and abuse, is to heal yourself through behavioral therapy, practicing patience, and expressing your child’s love language.
To begin, let’s take a quick look at the brain to explain why some of these behaviors such as anxiety, and anger occur, so that you can then learn how to manage them. Dr. Amen, brain imaging expert and founder of Amen Clinics, writes in his book, “Change Your Brain Change Your Life,” where these areas of the brain are affected, causing such mental illnesses. The basal ganglia, behind the front of your brain on the left and right side, is involved with forming habits, and mediates pleasure. “When the basal ganglia are overactive… people are more likely to be overwhelmed by stressful situations,” like disciplining your children or being over worked at your job (Amen 133). In short, if this area is overactive it can cause anxiety, and if it’s under active it causes “problems with motivation and energy” (Amen 135). He discusses a few ways to help relieve problems with anxiety through; breathing exercises from your diaphragm, guided self-hypnosis, meditation, and finding a purpose or hobby.
On the other hand, Anger management issues lie in the temporal lobes that are located behind the eyes on both sides of the brain. It carries the ability and importance “for the development and maintenance of consistent character” and mood stability (Amen 247).
In anger, it can be hard to stop, take a step back and come balk calmly, which is important in parenting because children through all stages tend to test their boundaries. It may be frustrating as a parent, thinking your feelings are ‘all in your head,’ but brain imagery has opened a new world into mental dysfunction. If you are a parent struggling with anger and/or anxiety, to improve the functionality of these two areas of the brain Amen recommends nutritional intervention, rhythmic movement, meaning chanting or dancing, and listening to calm music (Amen 264).
John Bradshaw, educator and motivational speaker is a well-known psychologist on family therapy, who focuses on healing your inner child, finding the sources of your toxic shame in order to heal, so that your dysfunction does not hinder your child’s development. In his book, “Healing the Shame That Binds You,” he speaks of a process involving leaving home, feeling the emotions of shame and then seeking validation. This is so that you may experience corrective processing to move forward (Bradshaw 133). Of course, there are further details into healthy shame and toxic shame, but the main point is that if you don’t change improper behavior it turns family dynamics into compulsive, co-dependent, and/or attention hungry children. Both psychiatrists Dr. Robert Hemfelt and Paul Warren, authors of “Kids Who Carry Our Pain,” mention how this attention hunger can manifest, how it’s easy to misinterpret.
To understand why your child has become overly ‘needy’ or ‘clingy’ the book, “Kids Who Carry Our Pain,” explains that “attention hunger is more than just the need for undivided attention… a need for identity” (Hemfelt & Warren 51). This may be a sign of emotional neglect in your child, which is a form of abuse. When abuse is mentioned, it’s not mere physical beatings, but rather its defined by a “child’s boundaries” being “violated, or … is prevented from completing a developmental task” (Hemfelt & Warren 51). Some believe yelling or even talking down to their children isn’t abuse but this is a child that has “no way of escape and no way to process” your message (Hemfelt & Warren 55). Then that child “swallows everything whole and internalizes it,” causing a child’s attention hunger (Hemfelt & Warren 55). This is where Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell’s parenting book, “The Five Love Languages of Children” comes to light.
In their book, Chapman and Campbell reference a child’s emotional ‘love tank,’ how “speaking your child’s own love language” can fill his tank, making it easier “to discipline and train” your child (Chapman & Campbell 17).
In short, they are explaining that when a child feels loved, a ‘no matter what’ kind of love, they are better learners and develop maturity. Chapman and Campbell offer some reminders to help: “1. They are children. 2. They will tend to act like children. 3. Much childish behavior is unpleasant” (21).
These are reminders when it is easy to forget that everything you do influences your child. Patience can go along way, to show a child an unconditional, love.
All individuals differ in how they feel loved. In Chapman and Campbells book, they speak of five main “languages” of love. To start, the love language known as physical touch, is the most obvious way to feel love from another. Kissing, hugging, and holding your child is a real fundamental backbone of parenting (33). Communicating to your child is also important, using words of affection, endearment, praise, encouragement, and guidance all lead to the language of words of affirmation (Chapman & Campbell 46-52). With this, the only way to speak to your child is to spend quality time with them, creating an environment for eye contact, storytelling and deep conversation. This will make them feel more secure and safe to come to you for advice or help (Chapman & Campbell 62-63). A more difficult one, is gifts, because they can be misinterpreted as being “conditionally given” (Chapman & Campbell 73). To be sure that your gifts are not payments nor substitutes for other love languages. Lastly, are acts of service, meaning the things you do for your child. Also, making sure to only do what your child cannot do for themselves, so they may be taught how to self-care (Chapman & Campbell 85). These unconditional feelings make way for a clear healthy teaching path for children to become independent and kind.
Other key factors found in more modern research for child-rearing. Boosting your child’s self-esteem, will help them find their own independent identity. At the same time, medical experts in KidsHealth wrote in the article “Nine Steps to More Effective Parenting” that a parent must “set limits and be consistent with your discipline” (paragraph 9). Meaning, for example, do not confuse your child by giving them ice cream right after being scolded for writing on the wall with sharpie. This sends mixed messages to your child, frustrating them to act out in rage. Most importantly, however, is the warning that you, as a parent, must know your own limitations. In short, meaning not to over-extend yourself, instead keep normal expectations so no anxiety becomes overwhelming.
Obviously, there are more details regarding different ages in reference to the parent adjusting accordingly. Therapy is always recommended for traumas involving abuse and parenting classes, in order to receive a positive support system to relive stress.
If you follow steps to healing, for sure those toxic behaviors will not carry to the next generation. Loving your child unconditionally and patiently, your child will grow into a mature, appropriately developed healthy individual. To clarify, being a good parent requires heeling and understanding of yourself, so that you can speak your child’s love languages.
Amen, Daniel. Change Your Brain, Change Your Life: The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Obsessiveness, Lack of Focus, Anger and Memory Problems. Harmony Books, 1998.
Bradshaw, John. Bradshaw on: Healing the Shame That Binds you. Florida, Health Communications Inc., 1988.
Bradshaw, John. Bradshaw on: The Family: A revolutionary way of self-discovery. Florida, Health Communications Inc., 1988.
Campbell, Ross and Chapman, Gary. The Five Love Languages of Children. Chicago, Moody Press, 1997.
Hemfelt, Robert and Warren, Paul. Kids Who Carry Our Pain: Breaking the Cycle of Co-dependency for the Next Generation. Nashville, Thomas Nelson Inc., 1990.
“Nine Steps to More Effective Parenting (for Parents).” Edited by KidsHealth Medical Experts, Nine Steps to More Effective Parenting, The Nemours Foundation, kidshealth.org/en/parents/nine-steps.html.