Friday, May 25, 2018

What Is Connected Parenting?

As many of you know, Village To Village offers 9 week Empowered To Connect (ETC) parenting classes to foster and adoptive parents.  These classes are built around  “The Connected Child” by Dr. Purvis.  She developed her methods specifically for kids from "hard" places, but we have found the information to be valuable for all parents and all kids.

We get a lot of questions and interest about what it is exactly we teach.  It is difficult to explain succinctly, so we are going to start breaking it down through regular blog posts!  Embracing connected parenting has been a humbling experience in many ways, but our families are much stronger because of it.  We hope that you can find some encouragement and inspiration from our journeys.    

You can find our first parenting blog below.


Connection or correction...what's my focus?

Three years ago we became foster parents to 3 and 8-year-old girls.  It was the toughest experience of our young lives.  We worked tirelessly to try to meet their needs, but we only seemed to exasperate their issues.  In a place of desperation, we began re-evaluating our parenting strategies.

We discovered that we viewed correcting behavior as our primary role as parents.  We felt connected when our kids were behaving, but as soon as it was time to correct, we all fell apart. The tools we used to correct behavior were mostly reactive as opposed to proactive.  To correct behavior, we relied on things like: 
  • Isolation (standing in the corner, time-outs, go to your room, etc..)
  • Verbal Reprimands ("don't do that", "stop fighting", "how many times have I told you", etc...)
  • Consequences (loss of privilege, additional chores, etc…)
  • Corporal Punishment (we weren't actually allowed to use this tool yet, but we sure wanted to)
Not only were these tools largely ineffective, but they drove our kids further apart from us emotionally.  Although we were telling them of our love, providing for their needs, and keeping them safe, something was keeping them from trusting us and connecting with us emotionally.

We knew we needed different parenting tools.

In the midst of this frustration, Matt and Stacy Borst invited us to take a look at their connected parenting material.  It flipped our world upside down. 

They talked to us about the importance of distinguishing between natural, logical, and punitive consequences when disciplining our kids.  We learned lots of new parenting tools and had to consider some new questions: 
  • Do we understand that many behaviors are need-driven brain issues as opposed to heart issues?
  • How much proactive parenting are we doing to head off the behaviors before they happen?
  • Do we know that it is when our kids are at their worst that they need the most connection and nurture from us?
  • Do we recognize that our own past and expectations might is probably limiting our ability to parent these kids well?  
So, our girls don't trust us?  Even considering that possibility upset us.  We had bent over backward for them and provided a much safer environment than they had ever known.  How could they not trust us?   And yet, we began to recognize that our methods of correction did not promote trust, especially for kids from hard places.  It made sense actually.  Methods like isolation and corporal punishment aren't acceptable in most relationships.  Can you imagine this exchange with your spouse?  "Honey, I've had to tell you 5 times today to turn the lights off when you leave the kitchen.  Now go stand in the corner for 5 minutes."   That form of correction is off-limits not just because a spouse is a peer, but because shaming interactions harm relationships.

The question is not do I correct, but how do I make sure I connect and build trust while correcting?

The basic idea of connected parenting is this:  My ability to receive heart level correction is built on a foundation of trust with the person correcting me.  If I receive correction accompanied by a shame-inducing punishment, it inhibits my ability to trust and affects my self-worth.  Our kids are no different.  Their ability to trust us is directly tied to their belief that we adore and delight in them, not because of their actions, but simply because they are precious.  Kids have underdeveloped brains, and make bad decisions all the time.  I have to correct them, but I don't have to shame them.  On the contrary, if I am careful to make my child feel precious and desired in the midst of correction, he becomes more moldable and receptive to my instruction.  

We were catching the vision, but what would our family and friends think?  How would our kids respond?  How would we function without threatening punishments?  Even though the threats weren't working well, we were really good at making them!  If we take those away, will we become permissive parents?

Permissiveness is...the absence of effective parental authority, resulting in the lack of boundaries for the child.  This word represents...the general confusion that occurs in the absence of adult leadership.  (Dobson, full quote here)

We wrestled with the appearance of permissiveness for many months, but we came to understand that permissiveness isn't the absence of punishment, but the absence of authority and boundaries.  This understanding put us at ease, because connected parenting establishes clear parental authority, boundaries, and leadership.

Desperation pushed us into this approach, and, contrary to our fears, implementing connected parenting tools dramatically improved our parental authority and leadership.  After years of studying and practicing, we feel like we're finally starting to get the hang of it.  It's been hard, even exhausting, but it has changed our lives.  Not only have we seen a significant increase in desired behaviors, but our kids are connected to us in a way we once thought impossible.  

It turns out that deep emotional connection is a more effective agent of change than fear of punishment.

Please don't think that we have some sort of perfect home now.  We all still mess up regularly, but our kids now feel desired and valued in a way that simply wasn't possible before.  We actually address behaviors more quickly now than we used to, but we have a lot less drama and a lot more fun.  Our kids still struggle to feel safe sometimes when we need to correct them, but they more readily accept our authority knowing that we are ultimately focused on connection...not correction.

Dr. Purvis says it best.

We will be exploring 3 steps over the next few months that are necessary to transition to connected parenting.  You can find step #1 here.

Feel free to reach out to us at any time with any questions!  Find our info here.

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