Since connection is the royal road to healing for our children (and for us, for that matter), we must identify and remove the roadblocks along the way. As parents and primary care-givers, we are responsible for our roadblocks.
Our ability to stay connected to, or re-connect to our children--is the primary way forward for their development.
Think of it: traditional parenting has utilized a top-down approach. We tell our children what is required of them, and they must comply. We may ask nicely the first couple of times, but our intentions are unmasked as we lose patience and it becomes clear that we are not really making a request but a demand. “I’ve asked you nicely three times, and you still haven’t emptied the dishwasher. So, give me your phone NOW and get going!”
Welcome to Roadblock City.
As parents, we want to help our young people. Making our expectations clear is a natural part of good parenting. With the Upside-Down parenting that children with RAD require, our expectations require a much greater focus on our child’s inner life: if they are inwardly dysregulated, dissociated, disconnected, or otherwise not able to do the things we’d like them to do, we need to attune ourselves to their inner reality and focus on how to help them to come into connection.
Our first step is to listen to what is alive in us. What emotions are we experiencing in the moment? Your current emotions may have nothing to do with your child but perhaps something else in your life is triggering anxiety, or frustration, fear, etc. Or maybe, it is a direct reaction to your child that is stirring you up—emotions can be quite contagious! In any event, the challenging work of Upside-Down parenting begins with self-awareness.
THE CHALLENGING WORK of UPSIDE-DOWN PARENTING begins WITH SELF-AWARENESS.
After you self-reflect, you can consider what you need to come back to a centered inner life where you can connect to your child. It may be that you need time to calm yourself down. So often, when I am triggered by someone, I can’t switch into a calm, centered state instantaneously. A longer process is involved. One amazing presentation I have seen, summarizes this “coming-back-to-our-centered selves” process beautifully. It is a TED Talk by Louise Evans, often referred to as the Five Chair Talk (click link to play).
Louise demonstrates how, ultimately, we are all the same in as much as we have the same universal needs. It is all too easy to observe a behavior in our child and ascribe the motivation of manipulation. In fact, it may be that at that moment—our child is trying to manipulate us. The question remains: WHY?
This is where universal needs come in—they provide common ground for connection. Like us, our children have a universal need for safety – yet they may not be able to trust us to understand their needs with compassion. Like us, they have a need for self-expression: yet, their strategy for getting that need met may be a tragic one, but the need itself is beautiful. If, as a parent, we think they are trying to manipulate, what will be our feelings? Our need for respect will be unmet and our feelings will be painful. If, on the other hand, we see the child’s attempt to manipulate as a tragic expression of the need for safety, or self-expression, or excitement, etc., we can begin to access connection with them since we, too, share those needs. When we as parents realize this, we can come alongside our children, connecting in empathy on the common ground of our universal needs. This is ‘with-ness.’
With-ness contains the power to heal. As we become more curious about our children’s needs and realize their reactions come from a painful, inner place, we can begin to compassionately connect with them—sharing empathy for both our needs.
You are now leaving Roadblock City.