Core beliefs and parenting

Editor’s note: Today, April 30, is SpankOut Day — an annual observance founded by the Center for Effective Discipline, working to eliminate physical punishment of children and to promote nonviolent discipline. This can be a different change in perspective for parents accustomed to spanking their children. It can be tempting to shift from hitting to other shame-based forms of punitive discipline. This post explores the beliefs and thoughts behind motives for human behavior and subsequent discipline of our children:

Shame was a mainstay of parenting in past generations. Many of us parents can remember feeling shame, probably often, while growing up — along with threats, intimidation, and other forms of coercion. Although parenting trends have made great strides to align with what research shows to be the healthy way to discipline our children, remnants of shame-based parenting still remain.

Shame-based parenting behaviors may be subtle, hidden in seemingly innocent messages meant to encourage cooperation from our children, like “You should know better than that,” “Nice girls don’t do that,” “Good boys do this,” or “You already had enough; you shouldn’t want more.” But if you were to turn these phrases around, how would you feel about yourself?

These phrases, while not abrasive, are still implying that a child is having thoughts that are “wrong” or “bad,” when actually, anyone can have whatever thoughts they desire — what we as parents really want is for children to be able to discern which behavior would be more aligned with the values we hope to be passing down to them.

Attachment Parenting International‘s Eight Principles of Parenting guide parents in setting appropriate limits on behavior while promoting a secure parent-child attachment, empathy and emotional literacy, and peaceful conflict resolution.

It’s important for parents to continue working toward knowing themselves better and how this affects their parenting and relationships with their children. Especially for those who were raised themselves with a shame-based parenting approach, becoming stagnant in personal growth can cause regression back to the parenting behaviors they were raised with.

Without intentional parenting, the shame-based parenting we experienced as children will be reflected in how we relate to and discipline our children, even if only through words we intended to be gentle reminders or even through expectations we have in mind of how our children are “supposed” to be behaving.

While shame, as a normal emotion, is felt from time to time by everyone — being the result of conflicting interactions within a social group — it generally doesn’t have long-lasting effects on a child’s self-worth as long as the child is able to lean on a supportive, unconditionally loving parent to help him process his feelings.

However, there is a distinct difference between a relatively fleeting feeling of shame from unconnected incidences and the long-standing, pervasive feeling of shame at a child’s core that is the result of shame-based parenting. Shame-based parenting instills a pattern of thinking in the child that she is unworthy and, inflicted by the parent, there is no unconditionally loving support person to help the child process her emotions and be able to see herself as separate from the ongoing messages of shame.

Many parents who grew up in a shame-based home may worry that they are inadvertently instilling shame in their own children, despite their best efforts to not do so. It’s understandable where this concern comes from — a parent who is conscious of the emotional wounds in his or her life is also conscious to not want to pass down this family legacy.

Examining Shame-Based Core Beliefs

Healing from a shame-based view of oneself is best done with a professional counselor, but there are various ways that adults can help the healing process along. One way is to examine their core beliefs.

Core beliefs are the messages our brain tells us about our self-worth. Core beliefs “color” how we think about ourselves, how we think about others, and even how we react to situations in our lives. Think about core beliefs as the color of who you are:

Negative Core Beliefs —
I am unlovable
I am not good enough
I am a bad person
I am stupid
I am ugly
I am abnormal
I am boring
I am worthless
I don’t deserve love or good things in my life

Positive Core Beliefs —
I am lovable!
I am good enough
I am a good person
I am smart
I am beautiful
I am extraordinary
I am very interesting to be around
I have a lot of worth
I deserve to be treated with respect, dignity, and love

When you have the same situation as someone with the other color of core beliefs, you actually both look at the same situation in different ways. For example, let’s say you meet a mother at the park and think about asking her to go with you to your local API Support Group.

Negative Core Belief: I’m boring, I’m not good enough, I’m worthless.

  • Thought: “Why would she ever go to the meeting with me?”
  • Behavior: You don’t ask the mother to go with you.

Positive Core Belief: I’m very interesting to be around, I’m good enough, I have a lot of worth.

  • Thought: “We might have fun together.”
  • Behavior: You ask the mother to go with you.

The behavior that results from your core belief reinforces that core belief. If you think the other mother wouldn’t want to be friends with you, and then you don’t ask her to come with you to the group meeting, you will then feel even more like you’re not worthy of having friends.

Of course, there is a possibility that if you do ask the other person to go to the group meeting with you, that she will say no or she may say yes but you find that you two don’t click. This may stir up more core beliefs, but it can also empower you to ask the next person you meet that might be a better fit.

How Core Beliefs Affect Parenting

Likewise, when you encounter the same parenting scenario as someone with the other color of core beliefs, you both look at and react to the same scenario in different ways. However, there is a complicating factor in the case of parenting. It’s all too easy to unconsciously transfer your core beliefs about yourself to your child. People who grew up in shame-based homes, who haven’t addressed their emotional trauma may unknowingly project what they see as the “bad” qualities of themselves on others. This natural act of self-protection is the emotional brain’s way of avoiding the original, unaddressed issue — that the parent himself is “bad.” It’s much easier to continue not feeling the pain of this “realization” by passing the blame onto someone else.

For example, let’s say your 6-month-old baby just started waking up at night several times after previously sleeping through at least 6 hours.

Negative Core Belief: I am not confident in my parenting ability.

  • Transferred Core Belief: My baby is manipulating me.
  • Thought: “My baby should be sleeping through the night.”
  • Behavior: You try cry-it-out with your baby. Your baby may be very distressed, and you may react with anger or anxiety, reinforcing the core belief.

Positive Core Belief: I’m a good mother and a good problem-solver.

  • Transferred Core Belief: My baby must be waking at night more because of a developmental need.
  • Thought: “I need to learn about why my baby is waking more at night and what to do about that.”
  • Behavior: You learn that your baby may be going through a growth spurt, teething, or otherwise needs your comfort at night and adjust your expectations to continue providing a sensitive response.

Let’s look at another example: No matter how many times you have talked to your 2-year-old toddler about “gentle hands,” she still hits when she’s upset.

Negative Core Belief: I am not confident in my parenting ability.

  • Transferred Core Belief: My toddler isn’t learning from this discipline approach.
  • Thought: “I need to be more forceful to teach my toddler to not hit.”
  • Behavior: You yell at or hit her when she hits. She may feel angry and act-out by hitting more, or she may be confused and hurt. You may then react with anger or guilt, reinforcing the core belief.

Positive Core Belief: I’m a good mother and a good problem-solver.

  • Transferred Core Belief: My toddler’s hitting frustrates me, but there must be a reason for her behavior.
  • Thought: “I need to learn more about what to expect developmentally at this age and what to do about the hitting.”
  • Behavior: You learn that your toddler is acting very age-appropriately and is still developing her impulse control. The best way to address this is to continue telling and modeling to her to not hit, while teaching her other ways to express her anger.

With this final example, let’s look at a teenager who has side-swiped a mailbox with his car, breaking a headlight and scratching the paint.

Negative Core Belief: I am not confident in my parenting ability.

  • Transferred Core Belief: Teenagers are careless, rebellious, and irresponsible.
  • Thought: “He doesn’t care about anything. He thinks he can get away with anything.”
  • Behavior: You take away his car keys, demand that he pay for the damages, and punish him by taking away privileges. He may act-out. You may then react with anger or guilt, reinforcing the core belief.

Positive Core Belief: I’m a good mother and a good problem-solver.

  • Transferred Core Belief: Teenagers sometimes make mistakes, as we all do.
  • Thought: “He needs to learn from this situation, but he also needs understanding and help with problem-solving of how to address it.”
  • Behavior: You talk with him about what happened and his feelings, and help him problem-solve what his next steps are.

Whether you have negative or positive core beliefs, the thoughts that come from these will transmit to how you feel toward your child and her behavior. Negative core beliefs are linked with shame-based responses.

Turning Negatives Into Positives

If your core beliefs tend to fall in the negative list, remember that each negative has a positive option. If you encounter a situation where you don’t feel worthy, you need to get into a practice of positive self-talk and coming up with positive options other than the negative default that may naturally arise in your mind.

Here are 3 ideas of how to begin turning your negative core beliefs into positives:

  1. Tell yourself that you are awesome! Start repeating positive statements, like “I am smart” or “I am a good mother (or father),” to yourself many times a day. You can try writing them on sticky notes and stick them to your bathroom mirror, your desk, or other places around your house, vehicle, or work space to give you reminders throughout the day.
  2. Turn the negative into a positive. When you begin thinking negatively, take a deep breath and intentionally turn the thought around to a positive. If you make a mistake, when the thought “I am so stupid” or “I am such a bad mother (or father)” comes to mind, tell yourself: “No, I am smart. Everyone makes mistakes, and I can learn from this.”
  3. Join an API Support Group. It is incredibly empowering to be surrounded by like-minded, supportive parents who are all working toward the same parenting goals as you. The opportunity to ask questions to a nonjudgmental group and to receive ideas that are in line with your values and that can apply to your parenting situation is invaluable. There is great positive power in a parenting support group when they can be both a sounding board and a source of validation, while encouraging your personal growth.
  4. Respond to yourself in the way you would ideally want to sensitively respond to your child in the same situation. Since negative core beliefs are often grounded in thought patterns from our childhood, such as from shame-based parenting or another emotional trauma, it’s not such a stretch to address the “child you” in your mind — the emotional part of you that is trying to protect itself with the negative core beliefs. That “child you” has to heal for the “adult you” to be able to move forward — toward a healthy self-worth and more confident, positive parenting.

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Editor’s pick: Where punishment, not even timeout, will have no home

“All behavior is communication.” ~ Linda Hatfield, cofounder of Parenting from the Heart

spankOutLogoToday, as we celebrate SpankOut Day April 30th — an annual observance founded by the Center for Effective Discipline (now part of the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center) to bring attention to the need to stop physical punishment of children and promote nonviolent discipline — I want to encourage everyone to take this movement a step further than ending spanking as a discipline method. It’s time to talk about timeout and the detrimental effects this very widespread alternative to spanking has on children, families and society.

This week’s featured article is “Why you should never use timeouts on your kids” from PBS Newshour. It is written by journalist and parenting blogger Wendy Thomas Russell who shares what she’s learned about using timeouts and why they’re really no better than hitting our kids.

“Decades of neuroscience and social research have shown that timeouts and other methods of punishment are not only ineffective in steering the behavior of children but outright damaging,” Wendy writes.

You read that right.

The fact of the matter is all punishments are damaging. It doesn’t matter if its spanking or timeout or taking away privileges or any other punishment. Every form of punishment is harmful, as Wendy reports, because “it takes the core need of the child and uses it as a bargaining chip.”

The core need she points out here is emotional attachment. Timeout separates parents and children, using the child’s emotional needs as a trade — if the child wants that attachment, he or she has to do this certain behavior, even if that behavior compromises another need, such as hunger, tiredness, or acceptance…and even if that behavior is not even developmentally appropriate for that child.

I like how Wendy describes children’s misbehavior — that children simply do not misbehave. All they do is behave, and their behavior — as so many attached parents understand — is a reflection of their needs in combination with their biological development stage. So a 2-year-old child is going to behave differently when hungry or tired or unwell or sad or angry or scared or overstimulated or bored or happy than a 6 year old or an 8 year old or an 11 year old. And it’s our job, as parents, not to punish them for their innate, biologically driven behavior but to guide them toward behaviors that help them cope with the situation.

If we look at spanking, parents who use spanking or hitting or physical punishment are hurting their children in their attempt to teach. If we look at timeout, parents are also hurting their children in their attempt to teach — through isolation and ignoring — and this type of emotional pain is just as damaging to a child as physical pain. What children are learning when they’re in pain or fear of pain is much different than what they are learning when not afraid or in pain.

Think about if you are trying to learn a new skill. Let’s say it’s painting a picture. If your painting instructor yells at you, hits you, or puts you in a corner every time you make a brush stroke she doesn’t like, what are you learning? Anxiety mostly.

If that same instructor guides you on how to hold the brush, how to put the paint on the brush, how to sweep the stroke over the canvas — exercising patience for your skill level, without punishment — what are you learning? How to paint.

Some parents may see this as a long way from trying to teach children not to do certain behaviors, but what all parents are trying to teach are actually skills — life skills. And considering that children learn more from what parents model, the skills that parents are teaching when they spank, issue timeouts, or use other punishments is to feel anxious and afraid, to expect physical or emotional pain when they approach a behavior boundary, and to react to feeling angry by controlling and coercing others.

That is violence.

Let’s promote nonviolence. And we can do it. Many parents when faced with the alternative of not spanking, using timeouts, or punishment assume that there are no ways to discipline their children. But discipline does not equal punishment. There are far more ways to discipline a child without punishment than with, and to be honest, nonviolent discipline is far more effective than punishment in teaching children — every time.

Many, many, many parents who have done both punishment and positive discipline will tell you this. The problem is, many parents who use punishments and who criticize positive discipline have never really tried doing the latter. If they did, they are bound to learn what Sarah Clark at Mothering learned — that positive discipline works and doesn’t turn our children into brats and heathens, but rather into some really amazing kids motivated out of attachment, which is far more powerful than fear.

But it does take a definite learning curve for parents to learn to discipline without punishment. There’s a lot more at stake than simply changing their parenting behaviors regarding discipline. How each of us react when angry or feeling another strong emotion is tied into our own neurobiology shaped by how we ourselves were raised, and even how our parents were raised, as well as the generation we grew up in and the community and society we knew then. Punishment is rooted in a worldview that goes way beyond the moment a parent feels angry and strikes her child or shuts his child, screaming and begging (even if not out loud) to come out, in his room.

All this to say that as we gently push our society toward positive, emotionally healthy relationships, we have to be patient with one another. We have to recognize how far society has come, and while it has a long way to go, we are making progress — bit by bit — through this Attachment Parenting movement. As parents and professionals hear more and more, from mainstream media especially, about the ever-mounting research of the negative effects of spanking, timeouts and other punishments — more parents will be willing to go through the hard work of addressing their often generations-deep perspectives on what it means to have a healthy relationship and to change their hearts toward parenting.

I applaud every parent who is on this journey toward a more trusting, empathic, affectionate, joyful, and peaceful family where punishment will some day have no home.

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