Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will definitely hurt me
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me…? As snarky as it may sound, words can and will, in fact, hurt you. Especially if you’re a 9-year-old growing up in a traditionally parented household.
Like many around the world, the parents of Dayna Ciarfalia were believers in tough love and traditional parenting. Now, as tough as it may seem to make you, the effects are quite the opposite. Hence, Dayna decided at a young age that she would be different, and when she had her first child, she was.
Dayna, transformational coach and mama to one-year-old Allie and two-year-old Dom explains that she grew up in a very emotionally neglectful household, “with yelling, shaming, and traditional mainstream control-based parenting.” All qualities she hoped to leave behind once she moved away to start her own household.
We’ve all been there. From our rebellious outbursts of ‘you can’t control me,’ to ‘I don’t care,’ questioning our parents remains consistent in adolescence. Although the teenage argument is rebellious, the mentality makes a fair claim.
Tooba Siddiqui, clinical psychologist at Camali Clinic, Dubai, explains that conscious parenting takes an emotional intelligence-based approach to childcare, compared to a punitive disciplinarian approach that we often find.
‘A lot of post-trauma symptoms are seen as bad behaviours. However, these parents don’t realise that it isn’t their child who is bad, but instead a child who has seen or had bad things happen [to them].” She elaborates that this [conscious parenting] type of approach stems away from reward-punishment and branches towards understanding.
For most, parenting over the years has been perceived as a dominating role where the parent is the guide and the child, young and impressionable, can be corrupted. Looking to have complete control over the child’s well-being, parents aren’t usually open to the idea of conscious parenting.
After all, ‘I turned out just fine? Why wouldn’t my child? which is why it’s hard to wrap their head around for most parents. Tooba further explains that in her experience, parents rarely want to shift to a conscious approach and are keen on rewards and consequences.
“The difference with kids who have been through trauma or who didn’t have their needs met well enough consistently is that they’ve been through so much worse that they don’t care about the consequences. They have learned how to numb themselves out so that they don’t feel the bad stuff. They will act like they don’t care, but in reality, they are unable to express their emotional vulnerabilities to you. Alternatively, they might believe that they don’t deserve the rewards.”
“They have learned how to numb themselves out so that they don’t feel the bad stuff.”Tooba Siddiqui, clinical psychologist
Having been on the receiving end, Dayna agrees that much of mainstream parenting is fear-based. ‘Oh, if I hug my kids too much, they’ll be too soft and won’t be tough enough to face the real world,’ or, ‘If I don’t punish my kid, they’ll think they can get away with anything.’ It’s not those things at all.
“The world is tough. The world is cruel. Parents want to protect their children from pain, but what we’ve learned now through fully understanding brain science is that toughness has nothing to do with your ability to handle the world.”
“You cannot spoil a child with love; it is exactly what children need to become strong and resilient,” she adds.
As Dayna mentions, research proves a clear relation between punishment and the amount of internalisation a child goes through. Tooba elaborates that a punitive approach can lead to mental illnesses, eating disorders, and various other problems. However, an understanding-based approach instils good emotional regulation and decision-making skills.
Although conscious parenting focuses on optimism and understanding, it’s not always sunshine and rainbows, as is the case with life.
“A lot of times when I’m having a hard time with the kids, it’s remembering that they’re having a hard time, they’re not giving me a hard time.”Dayna Ciarfalia
“On the days it gets to me, I lose my temper, or something or the other– repair is very, very important. Repairing is understanding and letting our kids know: ‘Hey, look, mom got overwhelmed, and I yelled. That was not about you; that was not your fault. But I love you, and my behaviour and emotions are never about you’,” Dayna explains.
Contrary to popular belief, this is not going soft on the child. Ultimately, the goal is not to shield or protect the child from negativity, but to help them develop tools to deal with it and bounce back effectively.
“I think it’s really important to show children that emotions do happen; they’re not just for kids. Big emotions and overwhelming moments happen as an adult, and we have to show them that they can be worked through and that you don’t have to hide it, or sweep it under the rug, or explode on someone, and then not talk about it,” she adds.
The clinical psychologist also emphasises that setting up perfection as a standard for parenting is futile. It is essential to cater your approach to your strengths and weaknesses. Besides the wounds that parents carry from their own unhealed trauma, most parents don’t even realise them, further increasing susceptibility to intergenerational trauma.
Dayna elaborates that parents have the best of intentions and love their children. However, they unintentionally walk into parenting with unhealed wounds they haven’t identified yet, and in that case, “inevitably they are going pass on subconscious behaviours to their kids.”
However, if they are aware of the wounds, it is imperative to take care of themselves and heal before they can help their child through their journey: “tackling the challenges of conscious parenting really starts with us taking care of ourselves and doing what I can to make sure I am doing that first.”
With the challenges, it’s also important to surround yourself with people who keep you grounded in a sense of belonging. People who share your struggles and understand you, says Tooba.
Running an online forum for mums called ‘The conscious healing mamas’ community, Dayna expresses her strong belief in the importance of being surrounded by supportive company, whether it’s a Facebook group, or some close friends and family to share your experiences with – especially when you’re having a tough time.
“During those [challenging] moments, it’s important to go back to the basics and remember why you started in the first place and focus on the long haul,” she adds. However demanding parenting may be, and however challenging our parenting was, it’s important to remember that we’re all imperfect humans on our journey of healing.
Decades after drifting from her parents’ path of parenting, she asserts, “I firmly believe that anyone who has children is doing the best they can, with what they know.”