Have you ever wondered what defensive parenting is, or if you have experienced it, doing it? We will explore the what and why of defensive parenting. I will also give you three types of punishments to avoid in your parenting.
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Parenting is a highly charged space- many opinions on the “right” way. Though I don’t believe there is a RIGHT way, three common parenting strategies get in the way of forming a connected and secure relationship with your child. But man- parents get defensive when I share the three things- and then I am left wondering- who does defensive parenting protect?
Trigger warning. Before we start today’s conversation I want you always to keep yourself safe first. So I go into some triggering topics inside today’s conversations, and the goal with my platform is always to educate and awaken- never to cause more harm. So I’ll give you a minute to check in with yourself and your emotional weather to ensure you can enter this space together.
Have you ever felt scared, embarrassed, or nervous to share your experiences as a parent? If so, how do you react to these feelings? Unfortunately, many parents respond with what I call defensive parenting. Defensive parenting is the wall we put up that inhibits us from growth. While it protects our ego, it also diminishes the potential for long-term healthy relationships. Simply put, it is the “Because told you so” parenting method.
Recently two members, in identical situations, shared their experiences with defensive parenting.
Both sets of parents were sharing their experiences with their therapists. They shared their decision to remove punishments and use The C.L.E.A.R. Method for conflicts. Not familiar with the C.L.E.A.R. Method, the therapists responded the only way they knew. They questioned the validity of removing punishments. After all, this is a widespread practice in the parenting world. Why on earth would you not punish a misbehaving child? Instead of asking curious questions, the therapists attached judgment and labels to these non-norm parenting styles. Well, it just so happens that this mindset is the root of defensive parenting. When we attach judgment to what is different than what we have always known, we inhibit our growth. In this case, we are hindering our long-term relationships with our children.
This defensive parenting mindset is everywhere. So much so that it is conditioned into how we think, feel, and react. Unfortunately, this is true even among society’s most trusted experts.
To recondition how we react to conflict, we must first change how we think. Our thoughts impact our feelings, our feelings affect our beliefs, and our beliefs impact how we behave. For example, if our thoughts are, “I must control my child,” I’m likely to feel exhausted when I fail. When I feel exhausted, I’m likely to believe I have to work harder. When I think I have to work harder, I react with force. However, this mindset all stems from fear.
I want to dig into three common strategies that inhibit parents from having positive relationships with their children. These are the three strategies that will trigger a defensive parenting response.
Physical punishment is using methods of physical force- also called Corporal punishment. This form of punishment can take on many different looks. This can look like spankings, hot sauce, eating soap, hitting an object, and using your body to enforce a punishment. Trying to assert your power over them to get them to comply is easy when a child is acting out. It’s how most of us were raised- with varying severity.
But no matter what the weapon of choice was- what was the message being sent? Feel free to simmer on this question. If we’re being honest, the message being sent is “When someone does something you don’t like, use force to correct them.” This may invite more instances of hitting and being a “bully” because they are using what they were taught to convey their intentions.
Another question to ask is- “When a child is spanked- what are they learning?” Some possible answers could be “to not do the undesirable action,” to which I ask, “how do they learn that?” The answer is pain and fear. We use pain and fear to guide a child to better behavior. But when we look at how the sympathetic nervous system works in our bodies- fear and pain trigger defense.
So when I share that corporal punishment isn’t an effective way to change behavior- it’s not from a place of opinion. It’s based on science and learning about how our bodies function. Using fear and pain to change behavior will flip the lid and trigger the fight, flight, freeze, and fawn mode. This will be true for all forms of punishment, honestly.
So what the child is learning would be how to protect themselves from you- the person wanting to be the trusting caregiver. But it’s just misaligned actions to the desired outcomes.
So the new question to ask yourself is “What do I want my child to learn through this?” followed closely by “What do I need to do to help teach that?” concluded by “Who does that mean I have to be in this moment?’
Instead, we can begin to understand ourselves. We are brought into awareness. Without awareness (sometimes awareness can be prickly bush), we will continue to be stuck in our ways. Sign up here to start on the journey of awareness.
Verbal punishments use methods of words to manipulate behaviors. This may look like yelling, threats, shame, and lying to get what you want. When using our words in conflict, it’s important to remember that what we speak is what is created. So I always advocate for speaking about what you wish to see happen. This can be challenging to accomplish without truly believing and seeking to use everyday opportunities to practice. This is a lesson I learned from Don Miguel Ruiz in his book “The Four Agreements.”
In his book, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz shares that the first agreement is to be impeccable with our word. This concept is that the words we hear on the outside create the inside of our minds.
But, what does it mean to Be Impeccable With Your Word? In the book, Don Miguel Ruiz notes that being impeccable means:
Our words are like magic and create inner dialogues that children use later in life. However, when we choose words that hurt, we miss opportunities to use our words to empower and heal.
The first step in becoming aware of our words is to be mindful if we’re saying something out of habit that might not be true. For some, that might look like keeping a journal close so you can write down what you’re saying. For others who are looking to go deep in this practice, hit “RECORD” on an audio recorder when you’re entering into a conflict so you can notice, with perspective, the words you’re saying and the outcomes they produce.
The final form of punishment is emotional punishment. This can look like making demands, using something someone fears as bait, gaslighting, sarcasm, humiliation, stonewalling, and shame. These are all ways to create an undesirable situation that pushes children to act a certain way to gain approval or acceptance. It can sound like, “What you’re doing right now makes Mommy sad.” or “I know you don’t want to lose your favorite stuffed animal tonight.” or “Come on, why do you always do this to me?” Again, making the child responsible for your feelings is a way to become aware that we’re using emotional punishment.
Emotional punishment is tricky to understand because there is very little tangle evidence. It’s based on how you’re feeling on the inside. Learning how to attune and validate that experience is key in learning how to navigate through conflict without using emotional punishments.
Brene Brown digs deep into this concept of acceptance and vulnerability and works towards healing the emotional wounds we feel while stepping into emotional honesty. For example, something I often hear from parents is “I want my child to feel loved,” to which I respond, “How are you sending that message?” and “Is the message being perceived accurately?”
Children are perceptive beings- they come tapped into their emotions from the start- finely tuned to the feelings of comfort and discomfort, and they express those feelings through their cries. So doing the work of attuning ourselves to these needs on an emotional level is a key component of fostering a secure attachment and sending the message you are loved.
That’s it, friends- those are the three primary forms of punishment that can inhibit a relationship and trigger defensive parenting to kick in. I now hope you feel encouraged to take the next step in removing common punishment strategies from your parenting toolbox. I know this work can be challenging, but it’s possible for you and your family!
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