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The Importance of Imperfection with Kids.

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Here is a summary of Brené Brown tips on parenting that I found really helpful for myself. I personally struggle with shame, guilt like most people and often find myself not knowing how to discipline or understand my child’s negative self talk or acting out. Below are just a few of the insights that were revolutionary yet incredibly simple at first glance, pulled from the audio book ‘The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting. Raising Children with Courage, Compassion, & Connection’. You may listen to the audio book using Audible or many other audio book applications.

Are you worthy even if you are imperfect? What is perfect? Being cool and popular and famous is a prime desire in our society. Popularity in school, overachieving, standing out on the internet such as Instagram, are held by many of us as the highest degree of accomplishments. Research shows that this obsession actually in turn leads to a decrease in creativity and connection. This is said to be partly because there is so much effort being put into proving one’s worth and perfection when under all of those masks there are a lot of feeling ‘less-than’ others. We are caught in a shaming culture cycle. We are shamed by our peers with judgment for our imperfections or behaviours. We are shamed by our teachers for not excelling or goofing off, we are then shamed by our parents because they are embarrassed or frustrated. Subsequently, these societal shaming pressures we are putting on each other, encourage very negative results. What will emerge, according to studies, is acting out behaviours, a lack of self love, low perseverance, no respect, a lack of vulnerability, a drought of sharing disappointments or needs, and very often early drug and alcohol use. Needless to say, this culture of being perfect has very negative effects on our youth. The good news is that you can start correcting the negativity by adopting a new awareness in how you unknowingly shame your child or yourself.

Brené delves deep into Guilt and Shame type personalities all based off of different research. ‘Guilt prone personalities’ believe they DID something wrong. They tend to over function and be perfectionists amongst us to feel their worth- they generally do better at school, projects and hobbies while on the other spectrum, ‘Shame prone personalities’ are the least fortunate. They believe they are inherently not deserving of love and connection. They fall quickly into thinking they are not good enough when they don’t ‘perform’ or if they are criticized. They have a gravely higher risk in the longterm of suicide attempts, acting out and failing in their studies. No matter what they do, they quickly descend into negative self talk.

Being conscious of how we discipline our children is key to making changes. “I love who you are but this behaviour and your actions toward your sibling/friend, parents etc are not acceptable”, could be a great start to reframing the message to your children.
Consider for a second, do you think YOU are loveable and worthy regardless of your mistakes or the pressure coming from the outside. What are you knowingly or unknowingly passing down to your children about your own worthiness?

From a medical perspective- our kids not listening and expressing their autonomy is actually developmentally spot on, especially 12-24 months when you get a lot of so-called defiance. This is not defiance it is natural development! Shaming at this age is a precursor to shame adopting. Giving options to your children and reminding them of their worthiness regardless of their actions can help alleviate the situation. Example: My son would often throw his messy spoon on the ground as a toddler, instead of getting mad or telling him he is bad or naughty or no, a creative and useful tool to address this natural impulse would be to say something like “ Son, I don’t want you to be throwing your food on the floor anymore either you keep it on the table and continue to eat and sit with us or you continue throwing your food but you get cleaned up and taken out of your chair. Those are your choices and mommy loves you either way. “

How we are talking to our kids and how we engage with our OWN self talk will influence the outcome of if our child will be shame prone or guilt prone. A shame prone child example would be ” God I am an idiot! I am so stupid, I dropped my lunch all over the floor! I hate this stupid lunch“
To correct or reframe that belief statement or anything similar could look something like ” honey, you had an accident, dropped your food all over the floor. That doesn’t mean you are messy or bad or stupid. Accidents happen and I will love you anyways. Lets clean it up together? Sometimes I make a mess too! “
Not using shaming as a parenting tool is my new goal. Making our kids understand what is ok and not okay even while they are at school or outside the home amongst peers, happens dependant on how we model it ourselves. Shaming will come also from peers and teachers who don’t believe or know about ‘wholeheartedness’ and shaming concepts. Just having the awareness by reading this now and listening to the book, is the beginning to a major shift for the better. Knowing that blame and judgment does not work but that setting boundaries that let kids know that them making mistakes is ok. The mistakes or acting out may not be well received or acceptable following the boundaries you set, but you will love/care for them regardless of them being perfectly ‘in line’. Setting firm boundaries about ‘name calling’ or bullying between siblings is also an important awareness to have. The researcher noted that setting a safe and sacred space to be vulnerable is key for healthy relationships between siblings later in life. Jumping in and intervening if you observe any attacking verbal or physical behaviour is important while maintaining your non shaming style is encouraged.

A sweet example of how shifting your speaking when your kids are around will quickly rub off is when Brené spoke about her dog. Daisy the family dog, jumped up onto the table, dragged a plate of food to the floor and started eating it. The author exclaimed to the dog “Bad girl! Bad Girl!”
Her young son overhears this and interjectes “Mamma, Daisy isn’t a bad dog, Daisy is a good dog who made bad choices!”
This innocent and cute example goes to show how shifting the way you speak about rules and boundaries to be supportive of the ‘imperfect’ way, can really sink into your kids with some consistency. The mere fact that her son noticed and reframed his mother’s judgment about the worthiness of the pet regardless of it’s mistake was a beautiful and encouraging testament to adopting a non shaming language by restructuring your intervening wording.

Uncool is the new cool. One surefire way to reduce some of the social pressure for perfection in your children is to get comfortable being silly! Go against being perfect and serious around the kids. This will be the biggest gift you can give your children. Allow yourself to give them permission to not be perfect, serious, fabulously famous, the best overachiever, or to keep up appearances in order to avoid judgment from other people. Give them the freedom to be themselves by giving yourself the permission to be yourself. Also encourage your children to complete a task even if they know they won’t be good at it- make them a winner for facing their fears and taking risks regardless of knowing they won’t place first. Encourage them to value not only trophies but critical and constructive feedback even more! Winning something every time they have to perform will do very little to develop appreciation for hard work and dedication to any craft. Not winning a prize or a sports game or A+ should not be a representation of their value as a human being. Try, try again.

Also worthy to note is that it would be best to begin avoiding the behaviour of judging/shaming other parents. We may all be guilty at one time or other of adopting this reaction. (Which in itself is a projection of your own Shame!- busted!) Their parenting may be different from yours and that is totally ok. They are doing their best with what they know and the tools in their chest. If you are a serial parent ‘shamer’, perhaps make a new practice of learning and practicing compassion. Catch yourself before you do it! For example, being supportive of other parents who are struggling with a child who may be acting out in public could be a start. Try making them feel supported by flashing a smile or passing along some kind words of kinship if you see them looking around in embarrassment and overwhelm. Remember that you have been in that place of difficulty and overwhelm too, and if you are truly thinking you are perfect and have never experienced this, well even better reason to help them. Skip the eye rolling. Stop letting PERFECTION rule your life and dictating other’s. The results will be imperfectly perfect!

In summary of what I picked up from the brilliant audio book ‘The Gift of Imperfect Parenting, how kids observe their parents engaging in the world is a massive influence on their future beliefs of self and others’ is if they witness a constant request from you to keep in line and be perfect, and that other people’s opinions of them and the family matters, then those shame behaviours and beliefs will be adopted. Shame beliefs have negative results within the family and the child. Focus instead on engaging fully with your family and those around you in wholehearted, and loving ways. I know I am seriously focusing on being aware of my language around my kids after listening to this audiobook. I am still hopeful and believing that any negative damage I could have had on them was an honest lack of information on my part and that it will be slowly reversed as I learn a new way of setting boundaries and expectations. I am even more aware of my need to notice and shed any need to change myself for others, and to stay strong in being myself and parenting as best as I can without shame.

Go listen to the audio on your way to or from work, you won’t regret it. If you don’t, I won’t shame you either ;).

This May 12 gift yourself the gift of a connected portrait session with your child regardless of their age. It isn’t too late or too early to make a beautiful memory with them. For a full description of a session with me please visit http://allisoncordner.com/reservations/

allison cordner photography

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