Father and son playing at the park near lake at the day time.

How To Master The Practice of Parenting The Differently Wired Child

When I lived in Boulder, Colorado, I was introduced to a way of thinking that have resonated into our way of parenting in our family. The saying is: “If you don’t like the weather in Colorado, just wait 15 minutes. Also if you do like the weather in Colorado, just wait 15 minutes.”

When we later got our now 6 year old daughter, we read about the cycles of development that she would go through as an infant, and these were surprisingly precise. We started joking that “If you don’t like the way the baby sleeps, just wait 15 days. And if you do like the way the baby sleeps, just wait 15 days.” That’s how often things changed back then, and we might as well accept them as conditions, because if we fought the baby’s natural cycles we would be spending a lot of energy on things we couldn’t change.

And if you are a parent to a differently wired child, you know that some things are still changing in ways that you don’t understand.

How do you deal with that?

For me the term “The Practice of Parenting” has become part of my filosophy of parenting our wonderful daughters – and in this article I’ll walk you through what that means to me and how you can apply it with yourself and your child.

The Practice of Parenting

Most often we hear the word practice in sports. You practice becoming better at that particular sport. You do this by doing the sport or by doing exercises that will help you get better at the core elements of that sport. Practice is a part of the constant striving towards becoming better at the sport.

Of course we also hear practice in performers of every kind, in the military, in school, in the arts and many other places.

Then there’s the yoga practice, where “to practice yoga” is not only doing the correct postures (asanas) but an ongoing participation in and engagement with yoga. It’s diving deeper into what yoga is, the filosophy behind it, the history, understanding the asanas, etc. You can even have a daily yoga practice without being on the mat every day, when you let the ideas of yoga penetrate your entire life.

But we don’t hear parents talking about their practice as parents. It’s more often that we hear techniques and methods, but not practice. I think that we should change that.

So what is the practice of parenting?

The practice of parenting is a deliberate effort to being present with the changes that you child goes through and adjusting your skills, tools, and efforts to best match your child’s needs, while having the overall goals for your child in mind. (Share on Twitter)

That means that when the 15 day cycle of great sleep (in the case of my infant daughter) is over and sleep becomes sparse and choppy, you attempt to become aware of it and adjust to it. Adjusting means changing your own sleep rythm to start earlier and getting more powernaps, cancelling arrangements, – and maybe to reach out to learn new baby tricks that will help the baby feel safe in her new understanding of the world.

For older and differently wired children, being present and adjusting might mean something else. Maybe your child develops anxiety over some future episode – and a normal talk about why the child doesn’t have to be fearful when it comes to that episode does not help your child. Then being present might mean to really listen to the child, figure out what the anxiety is really about. Maybe it’s running through different scenarios, maybe it’s offering to join him, make special arrangements, etc. Your child has probably just developed a new understanding of things that let’s him see something that wasn’t clear to him before. And he does not know how to tackle it.

Your job is to figure out how to help him tackle it. You may have to tackle (part of) it for him at first. And then as he becomes ready, you slowly move responsibility over to him, and you let him do the work. Eventually he’ll learn how to tackle it himself.

There are so many steps in those few sentences above. The art is to keep responding to where he is, and then developing the response and he changes.

You can tell when parents have not adopted the practice of parenting mindset. This is when they talk to their kids like they are younger than they really are – and/or when they become really frustrated over seemingly benign things. They have not adapted to the child’s age and/or have lost touch with what the child needs.

Or maybe they still think that their differently wired child *should* be developing like everyone else, and they become frustrated by the apparent lack of normal progress.

If we want to become (or stay) great parents we need to adopt the practice of parenting mindset. Otherwise we will be talking like my wonderful (and sligtly senile) granddad that kept calling me “Little Anders” even after I grew so much taller than him that he could no longer reach to pat me on the head. 🙂

Becoming a great parent

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”

– Archilochus

Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson argues in his famous research that “the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.”

So the way to develop your practice of parenting is to make a deliberate effort to improve your parenting skills. And while that includes putting in the (significant) effort, it also means that you, your child and your family as a whole will develop so much faster and stronger than if you don’t put in this effort.

You are going to be getting almost immediate response to the changes in your practice.

Here’s how to Practice Parenting through deliberate practice

When your child is differently wired, you are most likely having daily chances to practice, to develop your self and the mastery of your parenting skills and yourself.

These are ways I have found makes me a better and stronger parent, all the while eliminating a lot of conflicts and hardship.

Observe Yourself As a Parent

The first step to practice parenting is to observe, to become aware. That means not only experiencing the conflicts through your own eyes, but also through your child’s eyes, AND to step back and look at the situation from the outside. It is interesting to go through all three perspectives.

  1. Notice your actions and reactions – feel the emotions that you have without judgment. Be honest with yourself and seek the truth even if it sucks to realize that there’s anger, sorrow and other similar emotions at play.
  2. See the situation from the perspective of your child. Step into your childs shoes for a second and imagine that you are doing your very best to go through life in a good way. What is your positive intention in this situation? What does it feel like to be in this situation? How do you like the reaction of your parents?
  3. Step all the way outside the situation and imagine that you are a caring consultant without anything at stake in the situation. No emotions. What do you see, and what would your advice be to the parent in this situation?
  4. Now re-enter your own perspective with your own emotions.

What can you use the outside perspective for?

How you can create a better outcome next time a similar situation arises?

Change Your Ways To Accomodate Life’s Conditions

Often in the situation, we are emotionally highjacked, and can only respond from a lot of very powerful emotions. And that’s often one of the reasons that the situation arose in the first place.

So you need to get your thinking out of the highjacked state. When you do the above exercise and take the second and third mental position as the child and an emotionally un-attached observer, you’ll notice that you get better “advice” from yourself than if you stay in your own emotions.

The key to changing your own ways is *not* to think too much about the situation that is behind you. Because you can’t change it.

The idea of “I wish I could go back and change that!” is incredibly destructive when it comes to trying to change. (Share on Twitter)

What you do instead is to learn from the past situation and apply the learning to the future situations that inevitably will arise. So the past experience becomes a learning experience instead of  another reason to blame yourself. In fact when you blame yourself, you learn nothing. But when you use the situation constructively, your learn from it. (Share on Twitter)

And you can then apply that learning to the future situation like this: “It’s obvious that yelling didn’t work and I guess I knew that already. So I will try a different response next time he does that. What would my inner consultant advise me to do? Okay, – next time, I’ll ask him calmly to pick up his stuff, and if he doesn’t do it, I’ll get eye contact and slowly and calmly say ‘I want you to pick up that LEGO yourself’ every 30 seconds until he does it or stops throwing it.”

Then if you really want to practice – and that’s what this article is all about – close your eyes and do a couple of run-throughs where you imagine actually being in the future situation with you child and experience your own new emotional state and behavior. Adjust and re-imagine as many times you need to feel comfortable going into the future situation.

When you do that, you notice that the change you are trying to create is coming easier to you in the future situation, because your mind already knows what to do.

Acknowledge And Love Yourself

Realize that you are doing your very best, and that it’s okay to feel okay about yourself. Even when some things are going bad. Even when you are not performing like you would like to every minute of the day.

You are in a tough spot, and you haven’t had the insights and tools to go through it in an elegant way. If you did have those tools, you would use them and change things.

Then acknowledge yourself for moving in the right direction along with that wonderful child of yours.

Now over to you!

What did you get out of this article?

How do you practice parenting in daily life?

What challenges do you have with respect to practicing great parenting?

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Have a great day,

Anders

PS: It would be really cool if you will spend a second and share the article on social media, so that other great parents like yourself can get more and better inspiration on how to bring differently wired children up and out.