Why Relationship Based Parenting?

By Abby Bordner

I developed Relationship Based Parenting because I wanted to create a way to share the most RelationshipBasedParenting_Headerimportant aspects of raising healthy children with my clients. And it satisfies all my own questions and needs as a parent. I address the need for healthy relationships and positive leadership for children to thrive. And fortunately, I’ve got the brain science and child psychology to back what I teach. My goals as a parent and coach/ educator are to raise children who are emotionally healthy, driven to succeed in their lives and who experience a deep sense of love and satisfaction in all that they do. What are your long term goals for your children? I encourage you to consider this, talk to your partner and do some writing about your vision for wellness and success for them. It’s a fun activity and many parents haven’t even considered, “What do I want my children to learn from me before they become adults managing themselves in the world?” Then you can become clearer about what you’re doing in the day-to-day that supports their growth and learning toward your goals.

Here’s what I’ve developed as the key areas to focus your time and attention as parents.

The experience of positive relationships. A fragile newborn is wired to create attachment with you. In fact, their survival depends on it. The brain needs interactive experiences to create neural connections. The tone of your voice, the eye contact, the touch you give your baby all contributes to the way they begin to make sense of the world. The brain registers safety, connection and love by what they experience from you.

Some of the most ingrained beliefs about ourselves and the world around us come from early interactions with parents and caregivers. The primal brain assesses safety and survival and creates expectations about the world around it. There are primitive pathways in the brain that decide if I am safe in the world, am I loveable, am I connected to another human who assures my comfort, connection and wellbeing… or not. You may know many adults who suffer from early messages that they are unlovable or unworthy of safety and connection. They manage these difficult assumptions about the world for the rest of their lives.

As our children grow, parents and caregivers continue to provide this experience of co-regulation to help a child feel safe, calm and ready to learn. Every time we soothe our babies and children, their brain records valuable input that, in the experience of relationship, the world is a place to explore and learn. Some ways to reinforce this message of love and acceptance with your children are positive words, affection, giving your attention to your child and sharing the joys of life with them.

Develop healthy self-confidence. Children begin to have a sense of self starting at about 18-24 months. At this time, from the relationship and the feedback they are given on a regular basis, they begin to formulate their opinion of themselves in the world around them. Self-confidence helps children manage failures, take risks and set goals that keep them striving for more learning and more success. As parents, don’t evaluate your child’s character related to the problems they have; he’s clumsy, stupid, lazy, brilliant or beautiful. This creates pressure to live up (or down) to the expectations, rather than just do their best. Focus on the effort your children put forth rather than the end results. If you see your child working hard to build a tower, you can offer support by saying, “You’re working really hard to get that tower as high as you can!” This lets your child know you value their effort and focus. Even if the tower falls down or isn’t as high as someone else’s, he can appreciate in himself the effort he’s put forth. This is what builds self-confidence. If you say, “You’re the very best tower builder in the world!” your child may feel like a failure if he can’t meet your expectations.

When children experience positive role models for healthy self-esteem, they learn it themselves. As parents, it’s helpful to remember to avoid being overly critical of yourself and others and to look for solutions to problems, don’t dwell in negativity.

Support emotional understanding and management. Emotional resiliency is the ability to manage feelings and cope with day to day stresses as well as major life events. When children experience support and guidance for their difficult emotions, they begin to build resiliency. Parents can talk about feelings in a way that helps children understand and begin to manage their responses in various situations. Parents can also talk about their own emotions so children can develop empathy. Emotional intelligence is said to be more important than IQ in predicting success for children in school, work and life.

The brain has a natural stress response to any new stimuli in the environment. When children connect with a caring adult for a renewed sense of safety, their brain develops resiliency to these intermittent stressors. But if children grow up with constant (toxic) stress, their brain registers newness as a threat and sends them into their primal brain to assess their survival. When a child is in the survival response, they are unable to access higher function of the brain and learning is close to impossible.

Be the leader your child needs. Leadership is the healthy balance that some parenting approaches lack. A successful leader is calm and focused, comfortable in their authority, decisive, considerate and inspiring. Our children do not benefit from harsh discipline, being made to suffer in order to “learn a lesson” or being isolated until they behave better. When parents can be leaders, children learn respect, values and consequences. And it translates into internal leadership qualities that govern our children, even when we’re not around.

An authoritarian parent who uses harsh punishment to control behavior has the unfortunate effect of making your children avoid you whenever possible. And overly permissive parents make the mistake of never stepping in as the leader; guiding, teaching or directing children. When you are a positive leader for your children, they appreciate your input, respect your wishes and are more likely to assimilate your values as their own. A healthy leader will be decisive and confident to direct our children to be their best selves.

Relationship Based Parenting is a balance of positive leadership and guidance as well as connecting in meaningful ways so your children see you as an ally in learning and growing. Most parents find the need to explore their own experience with these topics and learn some new skills. Because, after all, raising great kids takes parents who are willing to become better people themselves. Your children give you endless opportunities to face your own beliefs and heal your own past.

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