We overcomplicate it. We forget that parenting doesn’t take tools, it takes relationship. We want our kids to behave so we read a book on “The Top Three Ways to Stop Your Child From…”. We look to counsellors and medications to “fix” our children.
I’m not saying reading books for tips is wrong. I’m not against counsellors and medication but look around. Technical and clinical solutions alone are not healing our kids. What they need is a strong rooted relationship with us.
The need to feel connected… and then counselling, medication, and books can add to the solution. You don’t start here, you start with connection.
When we were struggling to figure out what was happening with our son at the young age of 5, getting a diagnosis helped us understand what we were dealing with. Knowing he was struggling with clinical anxiety, depression, oppositional defiance disorder and ADHD gave us a framework to work with, but it couldn’t end there. Diagnosis only gives us a view “under the hood”, it doesn’t “fix the car”.
After the diagnosis, we then began our search for help. I read every book I could on how to fix my son’s behaviour. Meanwhile, our son’s episodes of rage increased. His little body didn’t know how to handle the large emotions he was feeling of fear when anxiety and depression would overtake him. He didn’t feel understood.
Anger was his way of saying, “HELP ME!” Opposition was his way of saying, “I feel out of control! Look at me!” The more we searched for outside help without giving him the relationship he needed but couldn’t ask for, the more the episodes of rage increased. It hit its peak at 8 years old when he became suicidal.
All those years of us trying to help him clinically only created a bigger problem inside. He was taken from us for three weeks to stay in the children’s hospital mental health unit. Even with our daily visits, his anxiety only increased with the separation.
The hospitalization was good for the doctors to observe him on meds. The medication helped our son become more reasonable to connect with. The problem was, I was expecting the time in the hospital and the meds to fix my son. I expected when he returned home that everything would become “normal”. But it wasn’t, his rages continued.
You never send the hurting away
I remembered what one of the psychologists at the hospital had said to me after I mentioned I send him to his room when he throws fits of rage. She said, “Oh no, you never send the hurting away from you, you bring them closer.”
I started keeping my son close to me when he would rage. I made connecting with him the number one goal, not fixing his outward behaviour.
I started getting curious about what his anger was trying to communicate with me. I would sit in the room while he would rage, reassuring him that I was there to help no matter what. I would stick by him.
He belonged in our family. Over time as I consistently did this, I watched my son soften. I saw him go from dysregulated to peaceful. The more I made connecting with him my priority, the more regulation I saw.
Healing the brain, with human touch.
The number one thing I have learned through my experience with my son along with 20 years of working in resilience and seeing other children go through similar is that we can’t expect clinical answers to solve a mental problem. Our brain heals differently than our body.
Our body responds to clinical answers: a cast for a broken leg, surgery to remove a tumour, antibiotics for a virus. Our brain is healed through human touch. It literally rewires as when we feel connected, secure, and loved. If we don’t start there, the brain lives in its basement: cold, dark, on edge, never trusting and ready to pounce when there’s a threat of attack.
What does being stripped away from your family for 3 weeks do to an already anxious child’s brain? How does it feel when mommy is always yelling at you to do better? How do you cope with all your big emotions when there’s no one strong and safe enough to hold them for you? What does a counsellor’s office look like when all you feel is there’s something “wrong with you”? How do you feel about taking meds when you feel those around you are only trying to control your behaviour?
But how does all of this look when you know you belong? When you know your family is a safe haven? I’m not stating hospitalization, counselling, and meds are wrong. I’m stating it’s not where we start.
As we connect with our children we build trust and safety. From there we do what is needed whether that be medication or counselling. And when trust is built with our children, they are more open to receiving help because the relationship has opened the neuropathways to receive help.
Parenting starts with relationship. Connection is always the first step before “fixing” behaviour.
Don’t overcomplicate it.