The Real Reason Traditional Parenting Spaces Don’t Resonate With Your Experience
I met with a mother last week (we can call her “Beth”) who was describing a recent experience she had with her son’s high school. This school had scheduled quarterly trainings for parents in which they invited speakers to talk about different topics related to parenting teenagers. Things like: “How to help your teen deal with test anxiety,” or “How to set loving-yet-firm limits with your teen,” or “How to help your teen engage with social media in healthy ways,” or “How to talk to your teen about those hard-to-discuss topics.”
Beth had never gone to these forums before, having a gut-feeling that while these "expert talks" would likely apply to the majority of parents in attendance, it would not apply to her unique child. But after yet another school email, she momentarily dismissed this gut-feeling, thinking that maybe she just needed to be open-minded — and also realizing she was eager to meet other school parents — so, she went to the next scheduled training.
And she listened.
And as she listened, she noticed herself feeling even more alienated, alone, and frustrated with the fact that none of the content or suggestions applied to her experience of parenting her teenage son. Beth departed as soon as the presenter finished speaking, once again left with those all-too-familiar, shame-filled feelings: “Nothing works for my child,” and “No one knows how to help me parent a child as challenging as mine,” and “I could never tell these parents the truth about just how challenging my child’s behavior is…” and “If this speaker thinks this teenage challenge is the definition of ‘hard’, they could never imagine what I go through on a daily basis…”
The advice does not work for kids and teens whose brains work differently and whose nervous systems are exceptionally fragile.
I had another parent (we’ll call her “Mary”) describe how, one evening the previous week she dove headfirst into the rabbit hole of parenting advice on social media after a particularly challenging night with her ten-year-old daughter. As she scoured the hashtags #parentingadvice, #difficultbehaviors, and #strongwilledchildren, she encountered a host of experts with tens of thousands of followers, who provided all kinds of advice for parenting supposedly strong-willed children with “difficult” behaviors.
But Mary described feeling increasingly alone, hopeless and resentful as she watched these videos and read the posts, thinking, “This is what you consider a challenging behavior?” Her frustration only mounted as she realized that every strategy suggested was one that she knew — without a doubt — would not work with her daughter, and would, in fact, likely make things worse.
I know Beth and Mary aren’t alone in feeling like the “mainstream” world of parenting experts and advice-givers is tone-deaf when it comes to their own parenting experiences. This doesn’t necessarily mean the advice is bad or the experts are wrong. The techniques or strategies being suggested might be effective for the majority of children and teenagers, but the reality is that the advice does not work for kids and teens whose brains work differently and whose nervous systems are exceptionally fragile. The tried-and-true, traditional parenting techniques require kids and teens to have cognitive skills in place to be successful. If your child is lagging behind in these essential cognitive skills, the time-honored parenting techniques simply won’t work.
Here are a few quick examples:
Consequences imposed for “misbehavior” require skills like learning and memory (especially learning from past experiences), impulse control, and being able to connect the dots.
Sitting down in the heat of the moment to “talk about what you did!” requires emotional regulation skills, the ability to reflect, the ability to engage and connect easily with others, and language and communication skills.
Sticker charts require learning and memory, impulse control, and sustained focus.
Being told to “go calm down on your own,” or being sent somewhere to do that, assumes the child has solid emotional regulatory skills and a stable nervous system that allows them to do this independently.
Being asked to identify Behavioral “Levels” requires the child or teen to remember the different levels and their meanings, to have the ability to anticipate, to reflect on their actions, and to maintain impulse control.
These are just a few examples, of many, in which the traditional solutions fail to match the needs and abilities of children whose brains work differently.
The real reason why traditional parenting spaces don’t resonate with your experience has nothing to do with you or your parenting skills. It also has nothing to do with your child, and certainly not with whether they are “good” or not. It has everything to do with our larger society not recognizing that those kids who are on the neurodiversity spectrum need a different type of parenting. Society typically doesn’t recognize that the challenging behaviors we see so often are not willful, and will not be extinguished with demonstrations of power, control, bribery and force.
This lack of familiarity with what parenting looks like for parents like Beth and Mary — and for you (and me) — is just that…a lack of knowledge and understanding. It can be deeply frustrating, even devastating, to continuously run up against these gaps in knowledge and understanding, but there are parenting spaces — like The Resilience Room I’ve created as part of this practice — where parents and caregivers like you are truly seen and understood in ways that assure you, on a weekly basis, that you’re not alone in this journey.
If you'd like to learn more, you might be interested in my FREE Brain First Parenting Podcast Mini-series. The podcast consists of six concise-but-packed episodes, providing an overview of the Brain First Parenting model and framework. Listen to it whenever you want, on the platform of your choice!
Interested in learning more about how your child’s unique brain works differently and what this means in terms of helping them experience fewer challenging behaviors? You can visit eileendevine.com to learn about the Brain First Parenting program and The Resilience Room membership community.
Eileen Devine works in Portland, OR as a therapist and coach supporting parents of children with special needs. She is also a consultant for families impacted by FASD, PANS/PANDAS and other neurobehavioral conditions through her private practice, working with families nationally and internationally. She lives with her husband and two amazing kids, one of whom happens to live with FASD. For more information, visit eileendevine.com.