There are 4 key message that parents can give to their children that contribute to an outcome of ‘good enough’ parenting. I use the term ‘good enough’ because no one is perfect. No caretaker is going to get it right 100% of the time and be perfectly attuned 100% of the time. We can, however, strive to be ‘good enough’ to create healthy outcomes for children.
The key messages that parents can give to their children are as follows:
“Its OK to be”
“Its OK to explore”
“Its OK to be you”
“Its OK to be powerful”
There are certainly other healthy messages that can be communicated, but these 4 messages are key as they relate to 4 differential existential modes that we all experience. These modes are Existing, Becoming, Being, Doing.
When I reflect on these key messages, it occurs that these are not only healthy for a child to hear and embody, but also for all of us to experience in our adult relationships.
We all want to feel the sense that everything is okay, that is safe to explore, that it is okay to be myself and that it is okay to be successful in life. These are also messages that contribute to a ‘safe enough’ dynamic which is critical for a healthy, fulling relationship.
If a parent is successful in the communicate of these messages, the child will have their own healthy, subjective experience that contributes to their well-being. The communication from the parents includes both explicit and implicit behaviour. So, it is not enough to just say these messages out loud, but they must also be communicated through behaviour over-time. Consistency is key.
The subjective experience of the child becomes:
“I am secure”
“I am separate and safe”
“I am me”
“I am effective”
A parent can create this experience for their child as follows:
1. Provide reliable availability and warmth to your child. This doesn’t mean being available 24/7 all of the time, but to be available in a way they can rely on you and count on you to a high degree.
2. Allow your child to differentiate from you by having different preferences and/or different objectives. In addition, provide protect limits for the child so that they don’t put themselves in danger.
3. Practice mirroring what your child is saying to you and give the sense that you get what they are experiencing. If you don’t get it, demonstrate curiousity. Affirm and acknowledge their unique preferences and choices. Allow them to be different.
4. Offer them instructions or guidance when needed. Praise them for achieving and let them know you are proud of their accomplishments. Let them know it is okay to be powerful, while also setting clear boundaries about how to use their power. The goal being to create a sense of powered centred within themselves, versus having power over others.
When I reflect on these principles, I notice how few of us actually receive and experience this kind of dynamic.
More often, children experience feeling unwanted, abandoned, neglected, dominated, smothered, controlled or dismissed. These wounds begin to develop fears in their psyche which motivate them to adapt to the circumstances. If the child adapts, they can try to prevent their fears from coming true.
For everyone that I work with, their childhood adaptations become their adult problems. Parts of themselves, were under nurtured or compromised by childhood and they use their early strategies to resolve challenges in their adult life. The issue is that these strategies, while genius for a child, are mainly ineffective as adults.
One example of this is how a child who experiences the wound of abandonment develops a fear of being abandoned and essentially ‘losing themselves’ or ‘dying’. So, in order to avoid this terrifying potentiality they becoming clingy. How often have we heard the phrase “stage 5 clinger” used in pop culture? This is actually an adaptation that is created in childhood development. The child clings to stay attached to their parent who is inconsistently available for any number of reasons including work, illness, divorce and others.
If you are a parent, it is never too late to start providing these message to your children or initiate a repair. This could include acknowledging and taking ownership for certain behaviours or addressing specific moments in time where you see that things could have been handled better.
For all relationships, the ability to repair is an important characteristic for the creation of safety that opens the door to deeper connection.