“Stop that racket! You give me such a headache!”
“Your brother did a much better job on his spelling tests when he was in first grade.”
“If you don’t stand straight, you’ll never get a husband.”
“Well, I guess that’s a good job for most people. I just thought you would do better.”
It’s a popular belief that your early experiences as a child determine who you will be as an adult. If your parents spoke to you in a certain way, then you will inevitably speak to your children that way. If your mother gave you guilt about that second cookie you ate, then you will give your daughter guilt about her second cookie. The tenth anniversary edition of Parenting from the Inside Out comes to tell us once again that our childhood is not our destiny. You don’t have to be defined by your childhood experiences. Shaped by them? Sure. But, you don’t have to repeat those experiences, you can use them to learn and grow as a parent.
There are six essential points to the method that the authors Drs. Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell call “parenting from the inside out.” Those points are the foundation for parenting that allows you to take the memories and experiences of your childhood and transform them into a positive parenting system.
Being mindful. The idea of mindfulness is to be present in your thoughts and actions. What that means is that when you are interacting with your child (not every minute of every day!) you are not worrying about the past or the future. Living in the present moment helps your children not only learn about you and the way you function in the world, but also about themselves. When we emotionally connect to our children, they develop a deeper sense of themselves and their ability to interact with the world around them.
Lifelong learning. Sometimes, it’s hard not to view parenting as a chore. But, if you approach it as a burden, you will ultimately stumble because it is impossible to happily carry a burden for twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for a lifetime. If, instead, you approach those challenges as learning opportunities, you can continue to grow and develop. Ultimately those challenges can give you a second chance at those difficult situations you might have been placed in before. Research shows that our brains never stop developing, and parenting provides you with an opportunity for lifelong learning.
Response flexibility. It’s extremely important to respond to different situations in different ways. It is also sometimes important to respond to the same situation in different ways because of extenuating circumstances. Drs. Siegel and Hartzell write that “Response flexibility is the ability of the mind to sort through a wide variety of mental processes, such as impulses, ideas, and feelings, and come up with a thoughtful, nonautomatic response.” As opposed to a knee-jerk reaction, response flexibility means that you come up with a thoughtful and appropriate response. To that end, children challenge us to remain flexible and to maintain our emotional calm. This is difficult to balance with the need for structure in a child’s life, but responding flexibly helps our children learn to be flexible as well. This will greatly aid them later in life when they are faced with challenges of their own.
Mindsight. Mindsight is the capability to see our own minds and the minds of others. This means that we understand that the actions that we and others take are just the surface of what we are feeling; there is a deeper process taking place in the mind. As parents, we often respond to our children’s behavior by focusing on the experience itself, rather than on what might be going on in the mind. If as a parent, you focus on the mind, you are helping your child develop emotional understanding and build their social skills.