This week I heard about a little 3 year old who got so upset he would hurt himself banging his head against the wall. His caretaker told me she was baffled and at a loss of what they should do. For me this brought back memories. Before becoming a mother I had graduated with a degree in Social Work. I was currently working in the mental health system as a caseworker working with adults who suffered from things like schizophrenia, bipolar, severe depression etc. I had taken child development classes, knew the latest parenting strategies, etc. I was so ready to be the perfect parent. Thus entered my child. After my first born I was ready to tear up any parenting book I ever had.
Just as weight fads come and go and the latest research seems in stark contrast to what was popular just a few years earlier; parenting, and mental health theories also very much change. Should you put your baby on their stomache or back? Believe it or not this has changed often throughout the years.
Back 20 years ago the fad was timeout. If you knew how to do timeout correctly-you too could be the perfect parent. If my child wasn't perfect the problem was my time out skills. I bought into all this. So when my son started a temper temper I put him in his room, closed the door and said he could comeout when he calmed down. So in theory he would learn to calm down and I could let him go. But no, he was stronger willed than me. He would get so upset and escalate, toys would be thrown, and eventually he would bang his head against the wall until it bled.
Having maybe too much trust in professionals I consulted with my supervisors in the mental health field. They reassured me that all would be well and I needed to be stronger and never give in. So away I went in what seemed day after day with the battle of the wills. It was exhausting, stressful and awful. Now don't get me wrong- time out can be a great tool-for the right kid and the right situation. It's just there are many tools and each child is so different that one type of 'parenting' fits all is just silly.
Finally, after trying the 'professional' way with horrible, miserable results, my sweet mother gave the best advise of all. She explained that my brother was also a very 'strong willed' child. When he got real upset, she would quietly scratch his back. He would soon settle down. I was desperate! So yes, next time my son started his temper tantrum instead of putting him in his room for time out- I quietly scratched his back. ----I didn't give into him and give him what he wanted -- I just scratched his back. Soon the tantrums and head banging etc. stopped. We could move on.
I learned a lot from this. A lot of life lessons. When we act badly, we want to know we are still loved. No matter if we tell our moms we hate them, do crummy at school, are rude to our brother and sister---we still want to know someone cares about us and loves us. It doesn't mean we should get away with acting rotten. I don't think most of us really want to be 'naughty'. It's just harder for some of us than others. We want our limits and people not to give in to our every whim; but we don't want someone to give up on us. Time out is lonely. A scratch on the back lets them know we care even if they have messed up and are acting awful.
Another lesson is to follow your instincts. Yes, sometimes we should look to the latest professional advice. Professional advice can save us. But we also need to rely on that voice inside telling you what is right for your particular child. Also look to support from others who understand! If you have a child who is for example, autistic, a mother who isn't familiar with this and has what seems to be 'the perfect child' may have come up with wonderful parenting skills for their children but these may not work at all for your child with their special set of circumstances. So talk to other mothers who may have been in your shoes or may be in it. When I taught some of my friendship skills classes this fall, I happended to have kids had Asperger's and autism. The parents sat outside and visited while I had fun and taught the kids. I think the parents enjoyed visiting and supporting one another as much as anything. Get support from real people. In my case it was my mom. Had I gone to her sooner, and not been so prideful my days would have been a lot less stressful and my days happier.
Again if you need help, talk to others, read the latest books but listen to that voice
inside you who loves your child like no other. Parenthood is hard. Each child is different. But there is nothing more worth it.
I am a mother of 3. I have a passion for helping kids feel comfortable in their 'own skin'.