Find out why positive parenting techniques support your neurodiverse child’s unique neurobiology and how it can help meet their long-term emotional needs.
My 9-year-old client sits down on the couch in my office and I can tell already by his slumped shoulders and downward gaze that he is having a rough week.
“How’s your week been bud? Should we start with the highs or the lows?”
“I hate school and I never want to go back again”.
The Harsh Reality of being differently wired.
When children with ADHD or other neurological conditions such as Autism or Sensory Processing Disorder move through the world they encounter an enormous amount of negativity.
The left brained world they live in constantly nags at them to sit still, be quiet and go with the flow, while their nervous system propels them to move, make noise and speak their bright minds.
They are constantly made to feel ‘less than’ in a world that doesn’t easily accommodate to their outside the box view of life and expects everyone to walk the line (the same staight one, that is).
I see the pressures our world places on these neurodiverse kids every Monday when they walk into my office making statements such as, “Why is my brain stupid?” “There must be something wrong with me because my brain makes me do bad things” and the depressingly common, “I hate myself”.
The looks. The stares. The tones of voice, they stick, and not only in their mind but also in their hearts.
These things slowly chip away at the child’s sense of self and who they are at their core.
Fortunately, you do have enormous power as a parent to support your child by providing a home environment that sets your child up for a healthy self-esteem, and I’ll tell you how.
A different parenting approach can be life changing for kids facing extra challenges.
For those unfamiliar with positive parenting, it aim’s to flip the script on conventional parenting methods that default to power and control to manipulate a child into compliance (aka behaviorism). Positive parenting approaches, on the other hand, aim to shape a child’s intrinsic motivation toward positive and pro-social behaviors.
Positive parenting emphasizes the long game, not the short one.
Positive parenting means that we treat our child the way we’d want to be treated, and the way we want them to treat others.
Positive parenting challenges us to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
As simple as it may sound, transitioning to positive parenting is not something that happens overnight. It takes patience, commitment, and a fierce dedication to change the way we react to our child in any given situation.
But oh is it ever so worth the energy.
Here’s how the positive parenting magic happens.
1. Positive parenting emphasizes setting firm limits with respect.
Children with invisible disabilities face an uphill battle every morning they wake up, as they wade through all the extra stimuli (visual, auditory, tactile ect) they take in, in any given environment. Think of how you feel when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Somethings just not right, our nervous system a bit askew.
This is how our child feels every day, and it is a struggle for them to navigate the gray space parents create with inconsistent limits or unclear boundaries. They need clear, consistent expectations and limits which they can rely upon and eventually internalize (thus freeing up any extra energy they’d have to expend on making new adjustments and accommodations).
2. Positive parenting focuses on collaboration over control.
Neurodiverse children are typically not known as the ‘go with the flow’ type. Being overly controlled is not their jam. They have plenty of ideas and strong convictions to boot. When we start to include our child in making a daily schedule or in a discussion of what calm down strategies feel the best for their body, suddenly there is a lot less resistance and a lot more ownership.
When we start to see our child as an ally and include them in making the daily schedule or in a discussion of what calm down strategies feel the best for their body, suddenly there is a lot less resistance and a lot more ownership, follow-through and confidence building.
3. Positive parenting is strengths-based.
Differently-wired kids desperately need others to notice and nurture their unique gifts and strengths. Their future well-being depends on it.
When we start to put more energy into the positives throughout the day with our child, they will begin to see these things in themselves. Being a mirror for our child’s awesome attributes is the groundwork for a strong sense of self.
4. Positive parenting is rooted in connection.
Intense kids spend more time in a state of high emotional arousal (read stress hormones surging through their brains and an over-activated amygdala). Guess what calms and deactivates the emotional arousal of our right brains? Calm connections.
A strong connection with an adult has also been shown in studies of kids with ADHD to mitigate negative effects such as suicide rates, school suspensions, and rates of depression. When we put connection and relationship first, we are not only supporting our child’s neurobiology but setting the foundation for healthy emotional development.
5. Positive parenting sets the stage for self- regulation.
Children with ADHD, and SPD have structural differences in their frontal lobe making both behavioral and emotional regulation a challenge. Positive parenting challenges parents to develop an awareness of their own thoughts and feelings when parenting, in order to interact with their child based on the child’s needs, opposed to reacting to them based on our own raw emotions and ego.
There is no more powerful teacher for your child than the example you set. When you as a parent accept the tall task of controlling your own emotions, we send an enormously powerful message to our child: cultivating self-control is hard, but it is possible and it is by far a better way.
When a child is struggling with regulating behaviors and emotions, parents are likely encountering an onslaught of highly challenging behaviors each day. We can either allow these behaviors to trigger us (and dump some emotional fuel on their fire for good measure), or we can separate ourselves from their struggles and give them a life preserver to grab onto in times of stress.
As parents and humans, we were made to learn and grow.
Changing your parenting now won’t be easy, but it will be easier than seeing the void that exists in your child’s self-esteem in their teen years.
It will be easier than seeing them attempt to fill this inner emptiness with material objects or addictions to marijuana, video games or fast food.
It will be easier than trying to convince them that they don’t need to find an identity with the ‘rough’ crowd.
Modifying your parenting approach now will make a huge difference in building a healthy self-esteem for a child who faces daily invisible challenges.
Your complex child’s’ path is their own, but as their parent, you have the power and privilege of providing effective tools and a strong compass to guide their way along the journey.
Want to read more on positive parenting and how it can change your complex child’s life? Here are some fantastic resources from amazing voices.
Positive parenting with neurodiverse kids
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