Can We Parent Without Shame? Shaelene’s Tips For Empowering Your Child In The Upcoming School Year.

I recently came across a post shared by Glennon Doyle. She overheard a father talking to his child about how deciding to go on a roller coaster is brave, but so is making the decision to not go on a roller coaster. This really grabbed my attention and of course got me thinking about my own parenting style with Christopher (who is turning 4 this week by the way and gearing up for pre-K in September!).

As a parent who is also a therapist, my rational mind tends to convince me that I know absolutely everything when it comes to parenting. Emotion mind also reminds me that I actually have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to parenting. Kind of funny (but also annoying) how that happens right? I am often caught between wanting to validate and support him in both emotions and actions, while also not wanting him to have a sense of entitlement (and for lack of a better word, to not be a total jerk!). Sigh…the dialectics.

Christopher is getting ready to move into a new school in September, and I already know there will be some hard days and tears on his part. We have had some rough moments in which when we leave him he yells, cries and throws pretty big tantrums. It’s incredibly sad and painful to watch, and at the same time, there are parts of me that also feel annoyed by it. Those parts are usually activated when I have somewhere to go, like work, and when I have the expectation that he “shouldn’t” be doing this. It’s crappy all around and 10/10 I would not recommend.

Can We Parent Without Shame? Shaelene’s Tips For Empowering Your Child In The Upcoming School Year.

When I saw the post previously mentioned, I noticed some sadness in my chest. It made me think of times where in trying to coach Christopher, I would say things like “you don’t want to be the one crying in class right?”-as if crying in class is something to be ashamed of, and as if that shame would “scare” him into not crying in class. I notice my own shame as a mom and therapist coming up even thinking of that. My own thoughts of “you should know better Shaelene, you do this for a living”, start to whirl in my brain.

I think of the idealistic, seemingly perfectly balanced father telling his son that crying in class is a brave thing, and so is using a skill that may make it so you don’t have a crying fit. Note-Christopher’s preferred skill for when he is sad at school is to “have a dance party”. He does not know this, but of course he is practicing opposite action and participate in these moments. #Proudmom

Here’s the problem with my comparison. One, it’s not helpful for me to compare my parenting to someone else’s, particularly based on one moment, heard by a third party and posted to Glennon Doyle’s instagram account. I’m sure I caught a really good glimmer, and I can use that to my benefit if I do so with both wisdom and intention. Two, the example cannot be easily replicated in the crying at school vs. riding a roller coaster. Crying in Christopher’s case here exists on a spectrum. He sometimes has tears and wants extra hugs, and sometimes he loses it and is screaming and attempting to run out of the room. When I think of what’s “brave”, I am having a harder time describing the escape mission from daycare in that way.

What is helpful for me to take from the post is the idea of parenting without the use of shame. This is where my wise mind comes into play.  I rely on my observing skills to raise awareness when my parenting veers into pressuring my child to conform by inducing guilt over his choices. 

Ugh. I’m being pretty vulnerable here and I’ll be honest, it’s not my favorite!

When I think of what’s to come this September as he plunges into a new environment and is (rightfully so) afraid or sad when I hug him goodbye at school, here is what I am thinking in my quest of empowerment based parenting without shame:

  1. Validating the Valid-No tricks here. It IS scary to be in a new place and with new people. It DOES feel sad to have you leave your parents, especially when you are 4! I want him to know that these feelings make sense instead of gaslighting him into thinking it’s not that big of a deal or say something like “you won’t even know i’m gone”, because honestly, how do I know that to be true?
  2. Cope Ahead-Before school starts, we will have talks about how he is feeling and come up with ways that he can help himself if he is feeling sad or scared. Cue the dance parties! Special handshakes made up for school also seem to help, as well as thinking about the sticker he will get on his sticker chart if he has a tantrum free morning.
  3. LOADS of Encouragement and Cheerleading-Because it is hard and scary to start a new school! At the same time, he also has to find a way to still be and stay in school without Mommy or Daddy. For this reason, I am going to cheerlead the heck out of what he is doing and let him know how awesome he is.
  4. Reinforce the Behavior We Are Asking For. Encouragement works as a reinforcer for many little ones as they naturally seek to impress their parents (this is also why guilt IS such a powerful influencer for children, because they want their parents to be happy with them!). On top of that, in those first few days I’ll have a special prize for him ready as soon as I pick him up for making it through the day! This reinforcer can fade over time as the behavior sticks, and can be done intermittently or at random, to keep the behavior of going to school and stopping tantrums strong throughout the year if needed.
  5. Rinse, Repeat and REPAIR. The most important thing as parents is less about what we do in the moment and more about how we make repairs when we screw it up. The last step here is really for me. To remind myself that I am not perfect, I don’t know it all and I will mess it up. Repairing and taking ownership of my actions when I parent outside of my wise mind values is super important to teach him to do the same in life, and to know that making mistakes is simply a part of the human experience.

I hope this information was helpful to you and would love to know if you can relate. You can email me here, and let me know what you are doing to empower your child or teens as they transition into a new school year. Or, let me know what you think about parenting without shame. I’d love to hear it.

Parenting is HARD, and if you’d like support in that role, our team has quite a few therapists who can help. If you are looking for mental health counseling in South Jersey for yourself or for your child or teen, we are here for you. We also offer online counseling all throughout the state of New Jersey.

DBT of South Jersey Therapists Who Are Also Parents:

  • Michelle Dunn
  • Alexandra Panchella
  • Lisa Besler
  • Mary Evers
  • Catie Giarra
  • Shaelene Lauriano

DBT of South Jersey Therapists Who See Children and Teens:

Wishing everyone an easeful transition this September, whatever the month may bring for you.

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