One huge parenting fail is undermining a child’s reality. Most parents, either dismiss or invalidate their child’s perceptions. They fail to understand that their child is a thinking, feeling entity, completely separate from them. And that their personal reality could be completely different from their parents. And that should be okay as long as it does not impinge on the rights/feelings of others.
Not giving importance to the child’s feelings and devaluing them impairs their later judgment and choices.
If your child says: Mom I’m feeling scared of the dark
And you tell your child: Don’t be a scaredy-cat, that’s not something you should be scared about.
Later on, they may continue on a dark lonely road ignoring their gut instinct of the possibility of getting mugged.
If a child says, ‘I hate my friend, Jane, she is so mean’
And the parent tut-tuts, ‘Now, that is not Christian-like, you should not hate anyone.’
The child will grow up being regularly used and abused by all the dark triads freaks that freely roam this planet.
Both the examples, give the message, that the child’s feelings/perceptions are not important. Gradually, over time the child loses his/her innate ability to accurately assess people/situations. The long-term ramifications of invalidating/dismissing/bypassing your child’s internal guiding compass can be huge. They stop trusting their instinctual responses and end up being in compromising situations which could be dangerous.
Parental denial of reality is a form of emotional child abuse It impairs a child’s sense of reality by invalidating his/her perceptions and gut feelings. Over time, they learn to doubt their truth which may result in a disconnect within their soul. Something does not feel right, but they don’t know what exactly it is.
Perceptions and Reality
No child comes into the world with a total blank slate.
A child’s unique temperamental blueprint influences how they sense the world around them. Some kids love animals, while others may not really enjoy being near them. One child may be more sensitive to rejection, while some are immune to it. Ignorantly, many parents brush away their child’s preferences, feelings, and wishes, believing they are doing their best.
However, even though a child’s perceptions may not be accurate, it is vital to acknowledge and understand their fears, apprehensions, rage, sadness, unwillingness to do something. Making an empathetic effort to see the world through their eyes and meet them emotionally at their level is not an easy task. It takes mindful effort.
Though we may all live in the same environment, everyone’s reality is different. Our personal reality is shaped by how our individual brains perceive the world. We see what we expect to see and think about events/people through our brain’s perceptual bias.
Our unique interpretations of our environment eventually shape our own personal reality. This could be good a thing or a bad thing, it depends. Cognitive neuroscientist, Donald Hoffman states that seeing the world through our own unique perceptions gives us a survival advantage. Well, that is so true about living in dysfunctional homes, we twist our reality to survive abusive caregivers.
Parents want kids to be convenient. They expect him to fit into their perfectly delineated boxes of an obedient, malleable child. When the child challenges the generational presumption, they will be ridiculed, invalidated, and ostracized. The tribal collective belief system is the only reality that is true.
They are not allowed to defer otherwise neither can they question the familial/societal presumptions.
Parental misattunement has devastating effects on a child’s sense of self. Children who experience this often feel unseen and really empty on the inside. They feel something is missing. They suffer from low self-esteem, feelings of emptiness, self-directed anger, and have difficulty feeling comfortable in their own skin.
Parental Communication Deviance
Parental communication deviance is one extremely damaging parental behavior that seriously impairs a child’s sense of reality. The conflicting messages confuse a child thus putting them in a double bind. This crazy-making type of interaction with one’s caregivers leaves a child totally conflicted with regards to how to respond or behave.
More than my father’s violent behavior, I feel it was the contradictory messages of my maternal grandmother that really messed up my head. To the outside world, she was the benevolent grandmother all-giving, loving soul. However, when the audience left, her behavior arbitrarily shifted to being silently rejecting. And when I’d question, her response would be outright denial.
It was frightfully confusing to a grieving motherless 11-year-old, looking for comfort. My mind was constantly in turmoil. What is true and what is false? Am I imagining things or is it real?
Gradually, these conflicting messages keep playing out in your mind. And over time the voices in your head become louder. I thought I would go mad and the only way to remain sane was to shut down emotionally. I learned to play a fixed codependent role, devoid of any emotional valence.
Continuously living and trying to respond to contradictory/double messages confuses a child’s developing map of reality. Thus causing serious mental health issues like anxiety, OCD, schizophrenia, or paranoia.
Harvard-trained psychiatrist, Dan Siegel emphasized the term contingent communication in a healthy parent-child relationship. It is the most critical factor in promoting secure attachment.
Through this subtle yet intricately complex dance of contingent communication, parents attune and modulate their responses to their child’s feelings and needs. This parental empathetic responsiveness makes a child ‘feel felt’. Which in turn helps develop self-esteem and confidence about their relationship with the world.
To effectively parent our children, we must be mindful and truly present with them. From birth, their brain is constantly being shaped by their caregivers’ reactions and responsiveness to the signals/cries.
Contingent responsiveness means a response that’s tuned in to the needs of the child. The three components of contingent communication, receiving whatever message, accurately understanding, and timely and effectively responding.
Pay Attention and Listen Deeply
Parenting is not easy, particularly so when one has to juggle other responsibilities in addition. One tends not to pay attention to the prattling of a little child. And in many instances, it could be just a child simply trying out his/her semantic skills. However, being a good enough parent is noticing when a child is really trying to convey something important.
At that time is critical that the parent empathetically listen to them express it without judgment, ridicule, or dismissiveness. Pause whatever you may be doing and deeply listen to both verbal and non-verbal cues.
Sometimes your child may feel ashamed may cover up the underlying reason they feel the way they do.
Or their past experiences may bias their perceptions of the present situation. That’s when a gentle prodding will yield more honesty with regards to how they see things/people.
Nonetheless, always pay attention to the nuances of their communication and never joke, dismiss or invalidate their sense of reality.
The Power of Listening | William Ury
Trust and Affect Labeling
Trust is vital in any relationship. When a child knows they can trust a caregiver with their innermost feelings, they are able to communicate more freely and authentically. Being held in the mind of another is one of the most growth-enhancing experiences. And it has been found to be an important predictor of children’s socio-cognitive development.
Secondly, give your child the space and tools to express themselves accurately. Putting feelings into words, or affect labeling, can have attenuating effects – it disrupts amygdala activity and activates the cortical brain area.
This can be used in tandem with re-framing or reappraisal, which involves finding other ways of thinking about situations to feel differently about them.
Reframing Perceptions – Changing Reality
Instead of denying a child’s reality use your ingenuity and reframe their perceptions. Reframing helps them look at situations/people from a different perspective. One beautiful illustration is in the movie, Life is beautiful, where the father, reframes their nightmarish reality into some kind of adventure.
However, there is often an overlap between pretending, lying, gaslighting, reframing, and positive thinking. An astute parent knows when and how to wisely use different strategies to shift perceptions of hopelessness to make the present reality more bearable.
Be mindful not to lie when the truth is obvious to the child. I remember one day when my son came home distressed, his friends said that Santa Claus is not real. My son trusted me enough to come to me for clarification. And as much as I hated to shatter the magic of Santa, I knew denying the fact will forever make him not trust me. Even now as an adult he still fondly reminisces about those few magical years receiving Santa’s gifts.
How we see the world shapes how we interact with it which in turn determines success/failure. Our job as a parent is to nurture, validate and encourage our children towards a fruitful life. We can guide our children out of the negativity by changing their perceptions. We can train them how to look at things optimistically or pessimistically. There are many ways to look at a situation and there is no one absolute truth.
Dr. Bruce Lipton, the author of The Biology of Belief, illustrates that changing your perception changes your biology and your life. Reality can be tweaked by changing how we see things – half-full or half-empty.
Image Source: Pixabay
Ref: Metacommunication Abilities in Schizophrenia: An Empirical Investigation of the Double Bind Theory
Parenting From the Inside Out – Dan Siegel
Compassionate Child-Rearing – Robert Firestone