Would you believe I get asked ‘Is my child normal?’ more than I’d like to admit. I like to think it roughly translates into: ‘Please can you reassure me that everything is OK here.’ For me, normal is about meeting a required standard and being a certain way that is seen as acceptable by society which can then mean, if you are not normal, then there is something wrong with you! I’m not quite sure who in society sets the standard. I guess it could depend on the parents and what their version of normal is; and that would depend on their parents before them.
What is normal to you?
If normal to you is well-behaved, likes school, is happy go-lucky, goes to sleep when asked and eats a balanced diet, I would beg you to STOP THAT RIGHT NOW! Normal is not perfect. Every child is different. There is no standard to meet. No required way of being. Yes, there are values you want your child to internalise. They will depend on the values you live your life by. Children learn what they live. We all come with our own set of beautiful quirks and unique traits and qualities which makes us who we are:one of a kind. How would you feel if I had an expectation of you to be a certain way? Pretty rubbish I’d imagine. Would you feel inadequate or faulty if you didn’t live up to my expectations? Or felt like you had to keep trying harder to get me to notice the good things you did? You may even worry that there was something chronically wrong with you which needed fixing. If you internalised that message, perhaps you would go through life believing you weren’t good enough. You would never reach your full potential. Never see the wonder of who you truly are and never ever be completely happy. We grow our own happiness from inside you see. Let’s take two children and see how different expectations and ‘normal’ manifests itself.
Annie is a beautiful blue-eyed spirited red head. Her energy is strong and creative. She is a big communicator and full of life. At school, she has lots of friends and enjoys learning. At night time, she is afraid of the dark and has trouble sleeping because she doesn’t want to be alone. Her anxiety sometimes comes out as anger and she becomes very feisty.
Meet Annie’s parents. They are worried and embarrassed by their daughter’s anger. They are concerned with how people see them. Their version of normal is well behaved, well mannered, works hard and is obedient. They focus their attention on Annie’s anger. They don’t want to listen to her when she tries to communicate – it makes them feel uncomfortable. So, they discipline her to behave better by banning play dates or confiscating her favourite game. They repeatedly tell her to be a ‘good girl.’ They compare her to her younger sister who is rarely ever angry (why would she be when she has a big sister doing the job for her?!). ‘Why can’t you be like your sister? I don’t get all this drama from her!’ they complain. Poor Annie is isolated in her bedroom, left alone with overwhelming anger. It frightens her and she feels stuck. She over hears her parents talking about her anger to their friends and feels ashamed. Her Mum, distraught by the situation openly criticises Annie to her friends over for coffee: ‘This is not normal and it has to stop. I’m exhausted and besides, what will the neighbours think?!’
Anger is not normal: Annie is bad if she shows anger
This is the message that Annie internalises. She may even think she is unlovable when she is angry and consequently, she comes to the conclusion this is not normal. She is not normal. She is worried she is stressing her Mum out and she knows her Dad will be cross with her. She doesn’t know how to stop and she feels like she is disappointing her parents. Annie grows up afraid of her anger, often eating on it to keep it inside. Or when it’s really bad and she feels ashamed, she gets depressed and turns the anger in on herself.
Daniel is cheeky and funny with a vibrant strong determination. He is sociable and bouncy like Tigger which means he can sometimes be a little over zealous. At school, he is captain of the football team and has lots of good friends. At night time, his worries come to life and he finds it hard to get to sleep because his mind is busy whirring. He can get really tired and cranky because he doesn’t sleep well. This can make him short tempered; especially when he loses.
Meet Daniel’s parents. They are concerned but they accept Daniel’s struggles as part of his development and they know he will become more emotionally resilient if he finds his own way. They also know that it can be ‘normal’ for children to go through periods of struggle and unrest. They do too! They trust in their son’s innate ability to find his way. They listen to his worries and don’t judge him. They create a worry box so he can empty his brain before bedtime and they talk to him about what he thinks will help him. They encourage him that he will find his way and they notice when he is doing well. When he is short tempered and has a meltdown, they stay calm and help him to let go of his frustration. They set boundaries to keep him safe and to stop him from hurting them. They schedule in extra cuddles and buy him a box of Smiley Thought Cards to encourage him to train his brain more positively. They buy him a weighted blanket so he feels safe in his bed and this helps his body get relaxed ready for sleepy time. They remind him that he is smart and kind. They reassure him that he will figure it out and if he needs any help, they are there. They talk about ideas of how to help him over dinner. Daniel goes to sleep feeling happy. Today he overheard his Mum on the phone to Granny telling her how proud she was of him at football today because he didn’t win but he found a way to calm himself down.
All feelings are normal and it’s healthy to let them out
This is the message that Daniel internalises and he knows he can ask for help if he needs to. Over time he learns that he will work it out for himself. Even though his feelings are overwhelming and sometimes frightening, he feels safe, very loved, accepted. With this positive and gentle guidance and practical tools, he learns to get a handle on his busy brain and has more nights where he can get proper nourishing sleep. When Daniel finds himself under stress as an adult, he has a trusty toolkit to call upon and if he really needs to, he knows he can go and speak to his parents about anything.
Can you spot the differences here. Mainly for me, there is a difference between:-
Annie is parented through Control (Authoritarian Parenting)
- Control comes from fear and is the opposite to love
- There is an expectation for the child to be ‘good’ so that it is comfortable or ‘normal’ for the parent (are you ‘good’ all the time?!)
- Emotions are shut down and the focus is on correcting the behaviour which stops the child from tuning into themselves (emotions are important messengers)
- Stops creative problem solving and thinking for the self (yes the child is obedient but then what?)
- Isolates children with their big scary emotions and doesn’t help them find ways to manage them
- Makes comparisons designed to motivate but instead create inadequacy (encourage your child to be the best version of themselves)
- Uses punishment and threats which do not help learning or growth (in fact only makes the child more angry)
- Creates a belief that the child needs you to tell him what is best for him (cannot think for self or cope without you there)
- Criticises and makes the child wrong which is shameful
Daniel is parented through Connection
- Love is the emotion of connection and is unconditional – it guides instead of controls
- Children are motivated by knowing that they are good and feeling good (when they feel better, they do better)
- Role models healthy behaviour and encourages creative problem solving
- Listens without judgement or fixing or stepping in to rescue
- Teaches the child to tune into their emotions and trusts the child to find their own way
- Supports the child by letting them know they are there but encourages them to be independent
- Communicates to avoid misinterpretation and asks questions to help the child understand themselves
- Approaches life’s struggles with calm, acceptance, empathy and understanding (responds instead of reacts)
- Validates and allows all feelings (even the ones which are uncomfortable for the parent)
I also see that focusing on the negative behaviour that you don’t want to see and talking about it, puts more attention on the problem and not the solution. A child’s perspective can be different to yours and still be ‘right’ for them. Making them wrong is dismissive and shuts them down.
Nobody is normal
We are all different + wonderful in our own way
If you have lost your way a bit or you can relate to Annie or Daniel’s stories, please click on one of the buttons below because I can help you. I’m here to help and I want to. I don’t like the thought of little Annies and their parents growing up in a world full of fear that needs control. The world needs more love. Love Love Love Love Love.