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Good Inside: A Guide to Becoming the Parent You Want to Be

Good Inside: A Guide to Becoming the Parent You Want to Be PDF

Author: Dr. Becky Kennedy

Publisher: Harper Wave


Publish Date: September 13, 2022

ISBN-10: 0063159481

Pages: 336

File Type: ePub

Language: English

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Book Preface

Yes. I can help. We can figure this out.

As a clinical psychologist with a long-standing private practice, I work with parents who seek me out to problem-solve through the tricky situations that leave them feeling frustrated, depleted, and hopeless. Though on the surface the situations are unique—the smart-mouthed five-year-old, the regressing potty-trained toddler, the defiant preteen—the underlying desire is the same: all parents want to do better. I am essentially told and retold: “I know the parent I want to be. I don’t know how to get there. Please help me fill the gap.”

During our sessions, parents and I start by unpacking a problem behavior together. Behavior is a clue to what a child—and, often, an entire family system—is struggling with. As we investigate behaviors, we get to know the child better, we learn about what this child needs and what skills they’re missing, we uncover a parent’s triggers and areas for growth, and we move from a place of “What’s wrong with my child and can you fix them?” to “What is my child struggling with and what’s my role in helping them?” And hopefully also, “What’s coming up for ME about this situation?”

My work with parents centers on helping them move from a place of despair and frustration to one of hope, empowerment, and even self-reflection—all without leaning on many of the most commonly promoted parenting strategies. You will not see me recommend time-outs, sticker charts, punishments, rewards, or ignoring as a response to challenging behaviors. What do I recommend? First and foremost, an understanding that behaviors are only the tip of the iceberg, and that below the surface is a child’s entire internal world, just begging to be understood.

Let’s Do Something Different

When I was in my clinical psychology PhD program at Columbia and working in the clinic, I did play therapy with kids. While I loved treating children, I quickly grew frustrated by the limited contact I had with parents, often wishing I was also working with the parents rather than working directly with the child and talking to the parent adjunctively. Simultaneously, I was also counseling adult clients, and I became fascinated by an undeniable connection: with the adults it was so clear where, in childhood, things went awry—where a child’s needs weren’t met or behaviors were a cry for help that was never answered. I realized that if I looked at what adults needed and never received, I could use that knowledge to inform my work with children and families.

When I opened my private practice, I worked solely with adults for therapy or parent guidance. After I became a mother myself, I increased my parent guidance work—both in one-on-one consultations and in ongoing monthly parenting groups. Eventually I enrolled in a training program for clinicians that proclaimed it offered an “evidence-based” and “gold-standard” approach to discipline and troubling behavior in children. The methods it taught felt logical and “clean,” and I walked away having learned about the same interventions that are regularly promoted by parenting experts today. I felt like I had learned a perfect system to extinguish undesirable behavior and encourage more prosocial behavior—basically, behavior that was more compliant and more convenient to parents. Except, a few weeks later, something struck me: this felt awful. Every time I heard myself give this “evidence-based” guidance, I felt sick to my stomach. I couldn’t shake the nagging suspicion that these interventions—which certainly wouldn’t feel good if someone used them on me—couldn’t be the right approach to use with kids.

Yes, these systems made logical sense, but they focused on eradicating “bad” behaviors and enforcing compliance at the expense of the parent-child relationship. Time-outs, for example, were encouraged to change behavior . . . but what about the fact that they sent kids away at the exact moments they needed their parents the most? Where was . . . well . . . the humanity?

Here’s the thing I realized: these “evidence-based” approaches were built on principles of behaviorism, a theory of learning that focuses on observable actions rather than non-observable mental states like feelings and thoughts and urges. Behaviorism privileges shaping behavior above understanding behavior. It sees behavior as the whole picture rather than an expression of underlying unmet needs. This is why, I realized, these “evidence-based” approaches felt so bad to me—they confused the signal (what was really going on for a child) with the noise (behavior). After all, our goal is not to shape behavior. Our goal is to raise humans.

As soon as this realization crept in, I couldn’t shake it. I knew there had to be a way of working with families that was effective without sacrificing the connection between parent and child. And so I got to work, taking everything I knew about attachment, mindfulness, and internal family systems—all theoretical approaches that have informed my private practice—and translating these ideas into a method for working with parents that was concrete, accessible, and easy to understand.

It turns out, switching our parenting mindset from “consequences” to “connection” does not have to mean ceding family control to our children. While I resist time-outs, punishments, consequences, and ignoring, there’s nothing about my parenting style that’s permissive or fragile. My approach promotes firm boundaries, parental authority, and sturdy leadership, all while maintaining positive relationships, trust, and respect.

Deep Thoughts, Practical Strategies (and How to Use This Book)

In my work with patients, I often say that two things are true: practical, solution-based strategies can also promote deeper healing. Many parenting philosophies compel parents to make a choice: they can improve a child’s behavior at the cost of their relationship, or they can prioritize the relationship while sacrificing a clear path to better behavior. With the approach offered in this book, parents can do better on the outside and feel better on the inside. They can strengthen their relationship with their child and see improved behavior and cooperation.

This underlying message, that these two things are true, is at the core of so much of what you’re about to read. The information is theory driven and strategy rich; it is evidence based and creatively intuitive; it prioritizes the self-care of a parent and the well-being of a child. A client may come to my office looking for a set of strategies to fix their kid’s behavior, but they leave with so much more: a nuanced understanding of the child underneath the behavior and a set of tools that puts this understanding into practice. My hope is that after reading this book you will walk away with the same. I hope you emerge with renewed self-compassion, self-regulation, and self-confidence, and feel equipped to wire your children for these important qualities as well.

This book is an initiation into a parenting model that is as much about self-development as it is about child development. The first ten chapters consist of the parenting principles I live by—at home with my own three kids, in my office with clients and their families, and on social media, with the many parents I’ve connected with over the years. My intention with these principles is to promote healing in children and parents, and offer practical strategies for a more peaceful family experience. And at the heart of these principles is the idea that by understanding the emotional needs of a child, parents can not only improve behavior but transform how the entire family operates and relates to one another.

In the second half of this book, you will find, first, tactics for what I call building connection capital. These are tried-and-true strategies for increasing connection and closeness in a parent-child relationship. No matter the issue—even if the mood just feels bad at home and you can’t figure out why—you can implement one of these interventions to start turning things around. After that, we’ll move into tackling specific childhood behavior issues that often drive parents to seek out my help: everything from sibling rivalry, tantrums, and lying to anxiety, lack of confidence, and shyness. Not every single tactic will be applicable to every single kid—only you know your child’s individual needs—but these strategies will help you think differently when challenges arise, and empower you to tackle these moments in ways that feel good to you, and safe to your child.

* * *

It probably comes as no surprise that I’ve never been one for trade-offs. I believe you can be firm and warm, boundaried and validating, focused on connection while acting as a sturdy authority. And I believe that, in the end, this approach also “feels right” to parents—not just logically, but deep in their souls. Because we all want to see our children as good kids, see ourselves as good parents, and work toward a more peaceful home. And every one of those things is possible. We don’t have to choose. We can have it all.

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