Stop Parenting From Fear

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Most of us were raised with expectations on our behavior (many of which were likely unrealistic, given what we now know about child brain development – but I digress).

We were taught to behave, and if we didn’t, we were punished with some form of shame, blame or maybe even physical punishment. Yes, I’m talking about spanking. It’s not good.

Parenting causes us to confront our own childhoods, but when we start to understand child development, we might decide to do things a little differently.

Parenting from fear is a knee-jerk reaction to an unwanted behavior in our child. We feel uncomfortable/activated/triggered by their words or actions, and we want it to stop. We are afraid of something.

But, imagine a world in which you were allowed to feel however you felt as a child. Now, imagine that world for your children. A world in which parents can hold firm boundaries but still accept and welcome feelings – both positive and negative.

Let’s talk about how we can make that happen.

  1. Get Curious – Instead of responding to our child’s behavior with shame, blame, threats or punishments, let’s shift our perspective and be curious about it. All behavior is communication, especially with younger children who might not be able to vocalize their concerns. Could they be tired, hungry, overstimulated? Do they need connection with you? If you can ask your child about a tense moment after the fact – not in the moment – you might discover the reason behind the action.
  2. Set Up for Success – The best way to avoid parenting from fear is to not put yourself in a bad position in the first place. If you know your child has a hard time getting dressed for school in the morning, why not put them to bed in their school clothes the night before? Sure, they might look wrinkled, but you’ll avoid a fight. If they like to climb the barstools in the kitchen, and you find yourself constantly yelling at them, consider putting the barstools away for now. Only make these accommodations when reasonable. 
  3. Empathy First – It’s hard being little. It really is. Imagine if someone said you can’t watch TV and eat ice cream all the time. You’d be upset, too. It’s our job to hold a boundary when it needs to be held. Expressing empathy is not the same as being weak. It’s a foundational aspect of building a strong relationship with your kids.
  4. Know Yourself to Lead Yourself – If you know what upsets you, you can better prepare for dealing with it. Do you hate loud noises? Get earplugs. Are meals a stressful time? Ask your partner for help. Do you really get frustrated at the end of the day? Take some deep breaths. Generation Mindful has an awesome Trigger worksheet that can help parents work though their stressors and find coping mechanisms.
  5. It’s Not Forever – I tell myself often that one action does not make a habit. Just because your child doesn’t clean their room when you ask, it doesn’t mean they will be a messy person. If I feel overwhelmed or stressed by chores, just imagine how they feel. If you punish them for NOT doing it, you ensure the act of cleaning is something they will certainly dislike in the future.

Our children have their entire lives to be pushed and shoved by the outside world. Their homes and their caregivers need to be their “safe place” where they can be themselves without added pressure. 

If you model the behaviors you want them to have, and you act with grace and empathy, they’ll learn much more than you could ever force them to.

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Lisa is a mother of two and a lifelong Oklahoman who loves plants, shopping local and enjoying her neighborhood, the Paseo Arts District. Her son Alden is 4 and a master Lego-builder. Her daughter Anona is 2 and knows her mind. Lisa is an Enneagram 1, a nurturer and a connector; always ready to be of use to a friend in need. A former PR/marketing exec, she now works part-time from home, is a Beautycounter consultant and writer for a local magazine. Lisa is on a journey to live a healthier life for herself and her family and share what she learns with others.

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