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If you were to meet me in real life, you would quickly see why I choose to write about being a neurodivergent, millennial mom who sucks at life; It’s cuz I’m ADD AF, I am the living worst at having or teaching discipline, and as such, my skills at providing stability and consistency are – well, lacking at best. 

I know I’m failing at parenting, but can’t pinpoint why…

What makes me suck at parenting though? I’ve often tried to figure out exactly where I take that  hard turn from being a mom who genuinely loves my kids more than anything, sacrificing everything for their wellbeing, to this complete and utter failure who hides from them out of genuine fear of their temper tantrums – even at ages 14 and 16! And by complete failure, I mean in all aspects; from providing material needs to doling out useful disciplinary tactics – even being affectionate at times! 

I’m telling you, I really suck!

After several nights of crying myself to sleep, I scoured the internet and tapped into the wisdom of the current therapist my daughter refuses to speak to. I certainly don’t have a perfect game plan, but I did get a few ideas on where to start looking!

Differing personalities effect how discipline is given and received

I think we all can agree, that just because you’re born into a family, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all family members will have personalities that mesh well. Clashing personalities can cause rifts in any relationship, let alone one where your forced to live under the same roof together!

In the long run, learning to live among varying personality types is beneficial; our understanding of community, support, shared goals, friendship and love are all built on that foundation of our interactions with family. But the process is no picnic! In my case, my daughter is an extreme extrovert, very dominant and confrontational, highly energetic and dramatic, fearless, intuitive, quick on her feet, and a wee bit manipulative. Definitely a Gemini!

I on the other hand, (a Cancer) am mostly introverted, observant, non-confrontational, super sensitive – really just a big baby. And while I’m fairly analytical and intuitive, I am definitely not quit witted enough to win any arguments with either of my kids, or sometimes, to even realize that they just insulted me!

Actual representation of how our interactions go…โคต

A lot of times, I end up feeling bullied by my child, and most of our interactions leave me wondering if it’s possible that my daughters spirit animal is actually Regina George! Not kidding.

via GIPHY

My son, a somewhat arrogant and also quit witted Aries and I get along swimmingly; though we definitley had our time on the struggle bus as well! While our disagreements aren’t as intense these days, the discipline issues still remain. In his case, personality isn’t the issue so much as just sheer defiance and strong-willed obstinance!

In both cases, I found that determining the differences in our very unique personalities made huge difference in shifting our increasingly negative interactions. Recognizing not only our own personality types, but our kids as well can be seriously eye-opening in understanding why our interactions with each other suck. What we might think is obstinance may literally just be a difference in how we each see the world, how we communicate, and how we react to our circumstances!

As a mom who has a drastically different personality than my kids, I would recommend taking a personality test, like this one. You can have your kids take their own as well, and you can go over them together. This makes for some pretty interesting dinner conversation, just sayin!

If your kids are too young to realistically take a personality test, check out their natal birth chart – and yours! I know a lot of people think astrology and horoscopes and all are a bunch of hookie dookie. But a natal birth chart determines aspects of personality based on the exact time and place of birth, and uses far more than just your sun sign to give insight. For me and the kids, our natal birth charts are spot on with what our personality tests say…it’s more than on point, kinda freaky tbh! In fact, ours are so spot on, that we started going over our daily horoscopes together as a part of raising our self awareness and our awareness of each other and our unique communication and interaction styles. It’s how we start our day off and I can’t tell you enough how beneficial it’s been to our family!

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Parenting style influences how discipline is implemented

Parenting style has a lot to do with how our kids respond to discipline. Much like personality, no one style of parenting is effective for every kid. There are four difference styles of parenting, and each have their pro’s and con’s; authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and uninvolved. Most of us develop a style of parenting based a combination of our views on what proper child rearing should look like, our own upbringing, and our personality.

In general, I believe in a combination of authoritative and permissive parenting, although due to single parenting and working 2-3 jobs a at a time, my actual parenting style probably leans closer to permissive. I really don’t have a ton of set-in-stone rules, and I prefer to let natural consequences do their job wherever possible; My kids earn more freedom and privileges by proving I can trust them.

I also parent this way because it’s what tends to work for my kids. Or least, doesn’t cause massive meltdowns and detrimental battles that I know damn well I’ll never win! My upbringing was more authoritarian, and I think in the beginning, that influence (unfortunately) seeped into my discipline style. Thankfully, I found out early on that there was no room for that type of parenting in our very neurodiverse family!

If you’re looking over the infographic and thinking, “I don’t really fit into any one of these parenting style categories”, it’s ok. Think of it more like a spectrum. You may incorporate different pieces of all 4 different styles, because just like we all have unique personalities, we also have unique styles of teaching, unique ideas of what self-discipline looks like, and different goals and priorities we hope to achieve before we let our children off into into the world.

The important thing is not to judge yourself, but to notice where you’re at, and honestly asses how well it’s working. It’s a learning process for every family, but recognizing our current style of parenting and then comparing it to what would likely work best for our child is the first step in shifting toward healthy and respectful parent-child relationships.

Which brings me to the last factor in behavior and discipline problems…

Stressors impact a child’s connection between behavior and consequences

In addition to personality and parenting style, environmental stressors can drastically impact how effective any discipline attempt may be. These stressors might be physical, environmental, or emotional.

Health issues (mental or physical), stressful living environments or past trauma can effect how a child responds to discipline. For example, children who have PTSD are unlikely to connect with negative consequences, and wouldn’t respond well to typical disciplinary action (yelling, grounding, taking things away, time out, spanking, etc.), if they respond at all.

Mental or physical health issues can incite similar results. My son is Autistic, and I can tell you right now, any kind of negatively associated consequences DO NOT WORK with him! Not only that, but sometimes consequences we choose may be having the opposite effect. If you have a child who enjoys being alone, giving time out may actually seem like a reward.

A silly example, or what seemed silly to me at the time, had to do with the layout of my kids bedrooms. When we moved into our current home, we gave my son the only room upstairs, thinking he would enjoy the privacy more than my daughter, who is extremely social and hates being alone or far away from everyone, or feeling left out of anything. We spent almost 5 years with this set-up, and all I heard was a constant barrage of complaints about how much they hated the house, how it didn’t feel comfortable, yada yada yada. But I also experienced an uptick in tension between the two of them, and increasingly negative interactions amongst everyone. Finally, the universe had had enough of trying to “hint” me into action, and as a compromise on bringing my daughter home after she ran away, we agreed to let her switch rooms with her brother.

When I tell you the difference in the general energy of our home shifted dramatically towards the positive, I mean it – times 100!!! Reflecting on it after the fact, we figured out that the sharp angles in the high ceiling upstairs made my son feel uncomfortable, as well as the eerie (his words) echo it created. Meanwhile the flat, low ceiling downstairs made my daughter feel almost claustrophobic. It seems like something so silly but once we made that simple change, it had dramatically positive results.

The best way to start working through these environmental stressors is to educate ourselves on the conditions (like mental health disorders) and work toward making any changes that in our behavior and our environment that we discover may be inadvertently thwarting or efforts.

The lack of clear, consistent expectations

via GIPHY

Kids thrive on consistency. If you have a neurodiverse family like me, you know that kids (and, lets face it, adults too) with conditions like ADHD and Autism do much better when they have structure – which includes a cut and dry set of if-then expectations and consequences.

As fate would have it, I also have Attention Deficit Disorder. While I do thrive in a certain amount of structure, I suuuuuuuccckkk at creating such an illusive concept! I have a tendency to either completely forget punishments I give out, change up the rules regarding certain behaviors and consequences frequently, or have a “they’ll figure it out” kind of mindset on some things.

Not great for clarity or structure of any kind.

Personally, the way I’ve been able to combat my utter failure in consistency is by using a type of self-modified behavior contract, which I make fun and pretty, cuz that’s the kind of nerd I am. ๐Ÿ™„Here’s an example of a contract template I created and use often:

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I love contracts because they are thorough, clear cut, and best of, co-created agreements between me and the kids, not dictated by me to the kids. It makes a huge difference!

But there are lots of great ways to create consistency and clear expectations and consequences. Some people use charts, rewards systems (more on that in a minute), apps – you name it. In the end, you need to use whatever method works best for you and your family – cuz we are all so completely different. Whatever you choose, just be sure to stick with it!

Shifting the Power Dynamic

All of the above factors have an effect on the power dynamic in the home. And, no I don’t subscribe to the idea that “children should be seen and not heard” or any other bullshit theory of parental dominance that might seem appropriate. Children are people, human beings who have thoughts feelings and opinions, and who need to be taught about the world and provided guidance as they encounter the multitude of challenges they must face to prepare them for adulthood. We are shepherds, not prison guards.

That said, it works the opposite way as well. What tends to happen when we start implementing a more, shall we say, progressive style of parenting, is that tables turn a wee bit too far and we end up giving our kids power. Power over us. And that is highly unlikely to end well for anyone!

So how can make sure our kids are given the proper discipline and environmental structure without tipping the power scales too far in either direction?

Glad you asked! See below ๐Ÿ˜˜

Positive Parenting

Yup, another term you may automatically consider a bunch of hookie dookie! But swearzies, it’s not! Positive parenting is sort of an overall term for a focusing on positivity in the home, not the negative. The key is to give more attention to the positive behaviors and communications we see our children do/make, there by initiating the brain cookie that helps entrench those good behaviors as the go-to actions we will take when faced with choices as adults throughout our entire life.

Focusing only on correcting negative bevior tells the brain that making that good choice isn’t especially notable and can ultimately be ignored. In the meantime, the brain also recognizes that the bad behavior does get attention – even if its negative attention.

The best way to combat this is to implement these two techniques:

A) Ignore negative behavior as much as possible, and calmly, without making a big scene, implement consequences – minus all the attention.

B) Give attention to positive behaviors and interactions via praise and/or reward as often as possible.

Here’s a couple of examples:

  1. Next time Suzy walks into the room huffing and puffing because she didn’t set her alarm the night before like you told her to, and is now blaming you for “forgetting” to wake her up in time to go to the mall with her friends, ignore her. Missing out on the mall is a natural consequence of her own inaction, and she knows this. However, if she tries to bully you into feeling guilty and driving her to the mall anyway, don’t engage. It’s much less stressful AND far more effective to simply walk away, and initiate whatever consequence you have set in place for this type of behavior. Whether it’s removing a star on a reward chart, or following through on docking allowance money as agreed upon in a contract, whatever it is, just do it, and do it calmly.

If you really want to piss her off, do it with a carefree little smile on your face! ๐Ÿ˜‰

2. That same day, as you ignore Suzy’s obnoxiously bratty behavior, look for at least one thing to praise her for. It can be as small as, “I appreciate you putting your cereal bowl in the sink”, or something big like, “Hey, I wanted to tell you, you did an amazing job organizing the garage this weekend! I really appreciate how hard you worked on it,” or, “I know your friends were drinking at that party last night and I am so proud of you for making smart choices and not following the crowd. I’m really glad you understand that you don’t need drugs and alcohol to have a great time.” You don’t have to say it in such a lame way, in fact, I encourage you to be way cooler about it, but you get what I mean!

Try to do this as often as possible, every single day. Studies show that we all respond better to praise than reprimand, and when our positive traits, choices and actions are noticed, we work harder, work with more enthusiasm and passion, and that we are more content and happy with our life. For kids, that looks more like trying harder to get along with parents and siblings, wanting to help mom with dinner or not half-assing it on Saturday morning chores; but most importantly, it sort of trains them, in a way, to want to make good choices, and to genuinely feel more content when doing so.

Reward Systems

Told you I’d come back to this! ๐Ÿ˜‰

As a part of positive parenting, I am a big fan of having some kind of reward system. Now, I grew up in a home where my parents thought rewarding children for “doing things they should be doing anyway” would make them entitled, and I know a lot of parents who have a similar mindset. Everyone is entitled (no pun intended ๐Ÿ˜‚) to their own opinion, and I am certainly not able to judge anyone on parenting skills, but for the record, I could not disagree with this idea more.

Imagine going to work each day and doing everything you are asked to do, and pouring your heart into it, because you will be paying off the student loans it took to get this job for the rest of your life, and maybe your next life too. Now imagine your boss gives you zero feedback on what you do, except to tell you what you do wrong. How long do you think it would take you to lose the passion you had for that job?

Now, imagine that after the newness of this job wore off, your boss started checking up on you multiple times a day, and picking out every little thing you didn’t do perfectly, and docked your pay every time you made a mistake. Imagine that at company meetings, this boss called you out in front of everyone to make an example of you. How long before you would quit, student loans or not?

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I think raising kids follows some of the same principles. If you constantly seek negative, you’re going to get negative behavior back. But if you seek positive, and reward positive actions, you’ll get positive behavior back. Kids are just little humans! You are their boss, and they don’t get a paycheck btw.

Take that same job with that same boss, and imagine they notice when you go the extra mile to make that spreadsheet easy to understand. Imagine they buy you lunch when you work on Saturday or gift you and your a family a vacation at the beach to celebrate the highly successful campaign you pulled off after months of non-stop working your ass off. Imagine that instead of berating and taking from you when you made a mistake, they showed you what to do instead and gave you helpful guidance and encouragement. Imagine how passionate you would be and how much you would love your job if you knew that every time you did something right, it was not only noticed but often times rewarded?

Apply that idea to parenting and watch the shift in attitude, energy and behavior take place like some kinda fuckin’ magic! ๐Ÿ”ฎ

Apply the hookie dookie

Hopefully this article has given you a little bit of insight into the struggle behind disciplining a strong willed child. But more so, I hope you were able to find a few helpful tips to shift the energy in your home from anger and frustration to collaborative and dare I say…happy!

All you gotta do now is take what you learn and start applying it, one step at a time. You got this mama! ๐Ÿฅฐ๐Ÿ˜˜

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