Without Hitting, Yelling, Shaming, Intimidating: What’s a Parent to Do? 

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On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued their strongest statement yet against spanking (which they defined as “noninjurious, openhanded hitting with the intention of modifying child behavior”) And also said to avoid non-physical punishment that is humiliating, scary, or threatening. The New York Times has a great summary of the research on spanking and logic behind avoiding punishment. A couple months earlier, the paper also published an article saying that parents should avoid reward and punishment altogether

So, what’s a parent to do? 

The answer is at the heart of Be Strong Families’ mission, vision, and values: transformative conversations that don’t blame, shame, punish, or disconnect. The direction is to talk and be with our kids in ways that protect, connect, allow them to experience and express emotions, and learn how to manage their behaviors. 

In our Living the Protective Factors workshop, Be Strong Families encourages participants to view their relationships with their children as relationships and to apply the respect rules they have for how they want to be treated in relationships with others to the ways they treat their kids. It’s usually an eye-opener. It makes people uncomfortable because fear and intimidation are so deeply embedded into our culture’s understanding of how to modify behavior. If you don’t listen: I will force you. 

Why does it work? 

This has a strong grounding in neurobiology. One of our deepest needs as humans — hardwired into us for survival — is to feel safe. The way we feel safe is to ally with others who will keep us safe. Fear is a powerful motivator. If we feel unsafe, we will do almost anything to get to safety, to survive. 

Coming on the morning of Election Day, there’s an obvious link to the current political climate. We can see how well spreading fear works. Everybody is talking about the mortal danger of the other side. You may die, if you don’t vote for me. Hate is nourished by fear. People who have been trained and conditioned since childhood to feel unsafe in their families and in the world unless they do what the person in charge says are very susceptible to this kind of manipulation as adults, notwithstanding the truth that policies do have real, life-or-death consequences. These consequences could be considered rationally, and we could make humane decisions that benefit all of us without the nasty, inflammatory rhetoric. This is not about meeting in the middle — it is about living our values and perhaps about finding common ground. There is another really important article that came out this week in Time magazine, in which author Tayari Jones asks, “Is the importance of our performance of national unity more significant than our core values?” No, it’s not. Our core values need to influence our choices as parents and as citizens. 

Perhaps if we move to parenting where we, as parents, are always the safe place, we will be able to have a society that runs on a different energy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if love, compassion, harmony, and positive energy were hallmarks of our culture? How can we, as parents, assist with moving the larger culture in this direction? 

At Be Strong Families, we think walking our talk and having our behavior match our values is important. Our values are: Family, Love, Excellence, Collaboration, Vitality, Spirit, Authenticity, and Liberation. Staying close to these allows us to bring positive energy and healing wherever we go. We have to check in periodically because it’s easy, with all the toxicity in our environment and in ourselves, to get off track. It can be relatively easy to fall into hypocrisy in championing and protecting “us" over “them."

What are your values as parents? As families? How do you model them with your children so that they operate from that place? How do you correct yourself when you get off track? These are the type of conversations we have at Parent Cafés, and how these parent-led events are part of creating a more positive, sustainable future for many generations to come. Join us. Support our work. Start a Journey to Vitality. Host a Café. Live the Protective Factors. Join with us to co-create families built on appreciation, safety, and respect. Be that parent. So your child will be that parent. 

Article by Katthe Wolf, President, CEO, and Founding Partner of Be Strong Families

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