Being a parent is many times a frustrating experience. We want the best for our children. In attempts to pass on our knowledge and experience, we can create friction with our children which is perceived not as assistance, but rather, as nagging and attempts to “tell them what to do”. It is like the beginning cook who has never cooked with grease. If a grease fire occurs, the beginning cook may attempt to put it out with water, only to find that this causes disaster. The perception of our children dictates the manner which advice and suggestions are given. When our children repeatedly ignore our advice, we become frustrated. This frustration is perceived as anger. From the child’s perception, the input of the parent is interpreted, at best, as “nagging”, and, at worse, verbal abuse and confirmation that the parent thinks the child is stupid.
For children with special needs or with communication impairments (such as autistic children), this can lay the groundwork for perceived abuse and trauma. Children with any obsessive tendencies are likely to ruminate on these experiences feeding into a self-concept of “not being good enough”, or being “broken”, or being “stupid”. Imagine what it is like for a person with obsessive thoughts continuously having this running through their mind. It is easy to see that even the most well intended input, by a parent or others, can be used to feed into this mantra of negative self-talk.
If we are lucky enough to gather this knowledge of perceptual variations early in the child’s life, parents can work on using positive reinforcement methods helping the child to ingrain the concept of being loved, being believed in, and being supported. Learning to communicate is key. One of the first things that we as parents need to understand is that when children bring us their problems, they do not always want us to help them fix them or to tell them what to do. Listening and being supportive is many times much more important. As parents, we need to learn when our input is desired, when to give it (even if it is not desired), how to draw the options out without being misperceived, and when to just be lovingly supportive.
These are some of the reasons that parents of special needs children need the help and support of not only professionals, but also a support group, which can help to ease the frustration. The unfortunate reality is that parents are in a specific role which can preclude the ability to assist the child, no matter the age, in resolving some problems. If the interactive events of the past have resulted in a perceived trauma, the child will need the help of a therapist to work through these feelings; assuring they do not do more harm in the current and future communication with the parents and others. Parents are simply in the wrong role to do this. Even the attempt to correct the perception, and communicate that there was no harm intended, is likely to be perceived by the child as further “scolding” and “abuse”.
This situation is, by its very nature, also traumatizing to the parent. Although it will take time to work through the feelings and learn to perceive issues differently, it is possible. The first step is getting help.
Dr. Rory Richardson is a clinical psychologist & neuropsychologist consultant at the SIM Child Heart & Children’s Clinic in Penang (04-655-4058).