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Parenting has always been one of the toughest jobs out there, and it’s made doubly frustrating by the fact that the results of your efforts don’t manifest until years later. Often, the immediate behavior of our children is not the best indication of the long-reaching effects of our parenting. Sometimes, we think that our approach to discipline works because the child will show complacency to what we say, only to find out, years later, that we did irreparable damage. Such is the messy and beautiful process of raising children the best way we know how so that they can grow up happy and well-adjusted.
A child’s brain is like a sponge, it absorbs everything it encounters, including the messages we give them. If a negative message is given to a child before they have the capacity to reject or challenge it, it can harm them psychologically throughout their life. Toxic parenting sends off messages to children that can create life-long wounds and can shape their future behavior. The worst part is, if that child grows up into an adult and doesn’t deal with this emotional trauma, they in turn become toxic parents themselves.
Understanding the wrong messages of toxic parenting is the first step to overcoming it and rising above it. In this way, we help create a generation of future adults who are open, loving, wiser, and less traumatizing to their future children.
To do this, we must first take a hard look at our own history and find out where our negative behaviors and messages are coming from. Then, we find the will and the drive to undo our own toxic behaviors and messages and find healthier, more loving ways of expressing ourselves or finding more positive ways to instill discipline. It doesn’t matter if we were raised with toxic parenting, what is important is that we are instrumental in breaking the cycle
We’ve listed down some common messages from toxic parents, and suggestions on how to rephrase and reframe them to be more positive and instill more love and appreciation for your child.
I don’t think I know what good parenting is. I must be ruining my children.
No one is perfect. What’s important is that I do my best.
One of the biggest secrets of parenting is: no one is quite sure what the perfect model is. This is something a lot of parents tend to forget, and they unjustly punish themselves for it. Not only is this unhealthy for you, it’s also unhealthy for your children. Always remember: no one is perfect. But always remember that you are a good person. Use your inner compass and instincts to guide your actions. If something you do or say feels wrong, then it probably is.
Everyone’s parenting style is different, but what’s important is that you treat your children with constant love and respect while teaching them how to become decent and upstanding members of society.
Only “good” children are worthy of your love
Children can’t be good all the time, but they are always more than good enough
Humans are flawed creatures. Children in particular are prone to flaring tempers, disobedience, and a host of other imperfections. This manifests at an early age because they’re experiencing everything for the first time, even complex emotions. This is also true for adults; we can’t always be loving and warm, sometimes we can be annoying, or loud, or even toxic. What’s important is that we recognize when we’re being negative to our children so that we can take steps to remind them that flaws are temporary, but your love isn’t. By accepting your own flaws and taking steps to be better, you take a step closer to ending a cycle of toxicity that plagues our society.
Always make them feel that they have room to make mistakes as long as they take steps to make up for it by striving to be better. Not only does this give them the opportunity to improve, it also tells them that you accept for who they are, flaws and all.
If you disagree, you get into trouble
Disagreements can be healthy, as long as its respectful
The basis of any healthy relationship is open communication. Often, parents tell their children to agree and accept whatever it is they say without arguing. While it makes for an “obedient” child, this attitude molds an adult that is complacent and easily manipulated by the people around them.
Disagreements are healthy, if they are done right. The best way to teach proper disagreement is by helping your child vocalize their thoughts and opinions in a respectful manner. Our differences is what makes us unique and beautiful, and teaching your child this early on will help them become adults with their own strong opinions and gives them a sense of power and autonomy in the future.
It doesn’t matter what you want, I know better
I respect you and your needs, and I will help you understand when I feel like you need something better
One of the most common toxic messages that we grew up with is that our needs as children aren’t important because our parents know better. Often, this is reinforced by harsh criticism, thinly veiled put-downs, or at times, ignoring that need altogether. This teaches a child that they will never know any better and that they’re needs are to be dictated to them by other people, or worse, that neither they nor their needs matter to you.
But the truth is, the needs of our children matter because they themselves matter to us. Sometimes, what they think they need isn’t what’s best for them, and we can be tempted to deny them. But a healthier approach is to teach them why something they might want isn’t good for them by allowing them to make a mistake and being there to catch them when they fall.
Never let your child feel like they don’t matter. Always be supportive of their needs by either encouraging it or by allowing them to learn better.
Be the Change
Once you spot patterns of toxic behavior in yourself, it’s up to you to change for the better so that your child is treated better than you were. It’s normal to want what’s best for your child, but always remember that they are their own unique persons too, and while it’s your job to guide them to the right path, it’s up to them to walk it.
Wordsworth once said, “the child is the father of the Man”. Keep those words to heart, and teach your child what it is to be a good person through example.