A Child’s brain growth is directly related to their early life experiences. Positive experience create positive brain growth. Negative one decrease it. 

Parenting And The Serenity Prayer

Parenting and the Serenity Prayer: Asking for Help

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

If parenting could be summed up in a single prayer, that prayer might be “The Serenity Prayer”:

Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

In this 5 part series, we will explore the essential points of this prayer and how it can help parents find grace and peace in the family relationships. 

Asking for Help: 

If parents want to find more balance in their relationships with their children they must be willing to ask for help! Whether that help is from God, a higher power, or other people, parents will need support to help the through the many challenges of parenting.

A common denominator of stressed-out parents is trying to parent in isolation; they do not realize that they need help or can’t find healthy support and in moments of crisis, do things they wish they didn’t do and say things they wish they didn’t do. Parenting from a place of regret is not a “happy place to be.” Additionally, it may result in child abuse and neglect that will cause the legal system to become involved in the families life. This is not the type of help you want to happen if you can help it. 

In other to accept help parents have to accept that parenting is difficult. I know that seems obvious to most of us but many parents believe they can do it all or feel shame if they don’t do everything perfectly which keeps them from seeking support. 

Support can come from natural and artificial sources. Natural sources would including the help and advice of family and friends. Aunt Melba might come and watch the kids so mom and dad can get our for a break once in a while. Grandpa John might offer some helpful advice about managing teenagers. Unfortunately, not all family advice is helpful like when they suggest you get a stick and start beating some butts. The idea of taking more authority in the home could be a great idea but physical abuse will get you in trouble. 

When natural help is not helpful, parents need to find artificial help in the form of professionals. Family therapy or parenting classes may be what parents need to shift the home from crisis to calm. Some cost may be involved in this but you get what you pay for, right? There are lots of non profit organizations in every community that will offer inexpensive, if not free, help to parents. 

Take action: What kind of help do you need the most? Who in your natural network of family and friends could help you? If there are not natural helpers available to you, who in your community could provide you will support? Let go of feelings of embarrassment and do what is necessary to get the help you need. 

Come back to RonHuxley.com to read the other 4 parenting tools based on the Serenity Prayer…

Unruly kids? Don’t spank or scream

Do you ever swat your child on the behind? Let’s hope not. Over the past few
decades, numerous studies have concluded that spanking isn’t the best or most
effective way to discipline a child successfully. But when your kids
misbehave, don’t replace spanking with yelling. New research shows that
screaming loudly at children may also harm them. So what can parents do when
their kids become unruly, especially with the summer vacation months upon us
and children spending more time at home?

Read the full story on Live: http://live.psu.edu/story/53707#nw44

How can you punish an abused child?

I recently watched a movie called “Unthinkable” (CAUTION: Movie spoilers ahead) and was shocked by the intensity of the violence. At first I turned it off then later went back to finish watching the movie. There was something about the plot line that drew me back in. The subject matter was simple: A terrorist sets up nuclear bombs throughout America, is captured, and then tortured to tell their locations. Yes, tortured. Aside from the more obvious political messages here, there was a subtler, frightening psychological message.

No matter how much the terrorist was tortured physically or mentally he never broke. He suffered but he continued to play mind games with this capturers till the very end. What would hold a person together despite such horrific punishments? I realized what the answer to this question was when the terrorist stated that “he deserved this” for all the bad things he had done. The movie never really described what these “bad things” were but it was enough of a mindset for him to endure unbelievable torture. His captors tried everything to break him: reason, empathy, brutality, mind games, more brutality and finally more brutality. They just kept upping the ante on the terrorist with the belief that eventually everyone breaks. He didn’t.

What struck such a cord in me was that many of the children I work with, who have been mistreated,  have this “terrorist” mindset. Their behavior says: “What can you possibly do to me that I have not already endured in a much younger, more vulnerable state as an infant or young child?” So many of the children who adopt this “defiant” attitude have a deeper narrative that they deserve the punishments they are getting. Children internalize their abuse and believe that they are responsible for what happened to them. In fact, they often believe that they are “damaged goods” unworthy of love or kindness or anything good. They may set up caregivers to make them angry and want to punish them. It is easy for an adult caregiver to play right into this narrative and reinforce the very thing they want to change in the child. They may not beat them or leave them in a closet for days but we do use other punishment-based techniques (lock them up, move them from home to home, shame them with words or actions, make them carry out sentences, etc) all with the hopes that they will express their guilt and shame and change their behaviors.

I think the end goal is a worthy one. We want to help the child see things differently but our methods need some updating. Hope for this is coming from the field of neuroscience which is why you will see so much of this in this blog. It may not be the final answer but it is allowing us to see the small, hurting child behind the big terrorist mask. It is telling us that children’s brains and minds are affected by their mistreatment and we must go back and redo attachment-based treatments to help them rebuild the mental and physical capacity for love and affection and moral reasoning too.

I know it sounds like I am hard on the adult caregivers. I guess I am but we are the ones who have to do something different. We can’t expect the child to “get it” and explain it to us. We have to look deeper to see the alternative narratives for the child to live out. That will take time and patience. Unfortunately, we caregivers are products of our own culture and parenting narratives. A shame-based approach to parenting is how many of us were raised and so, it is the only approach we  know how to use. If time out for an hour in a child’s room doesn’t work, what else is there? More time in the room? Perhaps we should yell louder or threaten more? Obviously not. The answer to my title: How can you punish an abused child, is simple. You can’t.

The mission of the Parenting Toolbox blog is to give parents more tools. I used to teach a lot of court-ordered parenting classes where parents where referred to learn non-punitive parenting skills. I quickly learned that you got no where trying to debate the punishment mindset. I realized that I couldn’t really win the “spank/no spank” argument. I might get some compliance from the parent but there was no change in insight. My focus became teaching other things the parent could do by giving lots of parenting tools. This worked. It is my vision to see parents better equipped and hurt children healed with this blog as well.

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