Many of the parents we support at Beacon Family Services tell us they need help as they are overwhelmed by the demands of parenting alongside working, homeschooling, cooking, cleaning and all the other things parents do on a daily basis. When children present challenging behaviours, this can be the straw that ends up breaking the camel’s back.
Anyone who’s had children can testify that the reality of their parenting journey is a far cry from the idyllic, sunshine-filled utopia they had imagined. Add to that the (often unintentional) parenting shame and constant judgement from others and we, as parents, soon end up feeling like complete failures. For parents who’s children exhibit challenging behaviours, the distance between the ‘perfect parent’ and their reality can feel enormous.
Many parents tell me about how they have read every book on the market, tried every programme and strategy and still nothing has changed. They have watched their friends and family parent seemingly perfect children with ease. This sense of having fallen short of the required or expected standard often affects family relationships and leaves everyone feeling despondent and disconnected.
The Still Face Experiment
As trained therapists, we rely on science and research. We don’t believe in an ideal parent. We believe in what is known as the GOOD ENOUGH PARENT. This phrase was coined by English paediatrician and psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott, decades ago. Since then, many more studies have been done exploring the idea of good enough parenting. Among the most famous is Dr Tronnick’s Still Face Experiment (trigger warning – this clip shows a crying baby).
Dr Tronnick’s study explored how babies responded when their parent went from being completely engaged and connected with their child to having a still, emotionless face. What Dr Tronnick learnt from this experiment is important. He found that babies can cope with being disconnected from their caregivers as long as they are later reconnected.
In fact, through further research, Tronnick found that perfectly in sync interactions happen between children and parents only about 30% of the time. For the rest of the time parents and their children are out of sync or getting back in sync. This is great news for parents, it means that it’s not necessary to be connected, in sync, in tune with our children 100% of the time, 30% is enough. That’s less than a third of the time you spend with them!
What this means for parents
This study shows that children can cope when we are distracted and not devoting all of our attention to them as long as there is an opportunity to reconnect. This makes sense – discord in relationships is relatively common.
When things are going well we feel safe but rupture does happen. When it does, we can feel like we are struggling or even drowning. Often through helping our children reconnect with us and repair what has happened during the upset, we are able to help our children work through necessary and important developmental tasks to help them move back to feeling safe.
Play as a tool for connection
Play is an important tool in helping children and caregivers reconnect. Our ‘Cards to Help You Connect’ are designed to help you experience connection through playful, fun and engaging and quick activities perfectly matched for when children are feeling SAFE, are STRUGGLING or when they feel like they are DROWNING. Using these resources regularly will help you reconnect and be in tune and engaged with your child.
What should you do with the other 70% of the time? Well, that’s up to you? Just make sure you’re not spending it feeling like a failure. Instead, adopt the idea of being a GOOD ENOUGH PARENT and give yourself a break. You’re doing a great job!
Charlotte Jenkins is the Founder and a Director of Beacon Family Services. She is an experienced social worker supporting children and families therapeutically using Theraplay and Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy.
If you are struggling with your child’s behaviour please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how we can support you and your family.
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