naamah_darling: A tiny week-old tabby kitten with her paws raised and her eyes half-closed. (Kittens)
So, it's Dysfunctional Families Day over at MakingLight.

So I thought I'd share a few things drawn from experiences I had as a child raised in a dysfunctional family.

You can link this around if you like, and feel free to add your own observations at the end.

Disclaimer: I'd really rather not go into the "but sometimes kids are genuinely bad and irritating and and and" stuff. Take all of this in context. Okay?


Refusing to comfort crying children does not make them magically not hurt or scared. It doesn't make them braver. It makes them feel more hurt and scared because they learn they cannot trust anyone to soothe them. They never learn to comfort themselves. They grow to be fearful adults.

Telling kids that childhood is the best part of your life and that adulthood is horrible does not prepare them for anything. It only makes children afraid of growing up. Through fostering fear, it also denies them the "good" childhood people say they are having, even though they aren't.

Telling kids not to be juvenile and to grow up does not make them grow up any faster. Telling kids to stop being babies does not make them into stronger and more capable people.

Telling kids that they are "spoiled" or "they have it good" when what the child has is, in fact, strictly average and not all that exeptional does not make them appreciate what they have. It only makes them ashamed of what they have, and makes them feel totally undeserving.

Telling kids that a painful and bloody skinned knee is nothing compared to the pain you have, or the pain that everyone eventually has from inevitable broken bones, illnesses, or surgeries, does not make them better able to ignore the pain. It makes them more afraid of pain, it makes them afraid of growing up, and it very well might make them afraid of doctors and/or their own bodies.

Telling kids that they are wasting their talents does not make them apply themselves. It only makes them feel like they can't do anything right, ever.

Criticizing kids for not doing well in school will not help them do better. They are either bored, being bullied, are having trouble understanding the material, or are so smart they aren't used to having to try to learn. Your job, in all of these cases, is to empathize and help them.

Criticizing kids for not being smart enough will not make them smarter or try harder. It will only make them accept that they aren't smart, and because they believe that for real, they will never try to become smarter.

Praising your kid for their intelligence is fantastic. You also need to praise them for trying, at least as often as you praise the smarts they already have. Preferably a lot more.

Telling kids that nobody will "cut you any slack" in "the real world" and someday they will have to "pay their dues" does not make a child a harder worker. Praising your child for learning, for trying even if they fail, makes a child a harder worker.

Telling kids that things they like are "stupid" won't make them like more sophisticated, interesting things. It will only make them feel ashamed of what they like, and more likely to go with the crowd because they do not have confidence in their own taste.

Telling kids that their dreams or wishes are unattainable won't make them more practical. It will make their world smaller and uglier.

Objecting to how a child expresses anger, or how a child challenges your authority, is fine, if their behavior is genuinely destructive, inappropriate, or cruel. Telling them or demonstrating by example that they cannot ever express anger or challenge you will not make them more respectful. It will make them angry and mistrustful, and will destroy their ability to resolve conflict constructively, leaving them with only two ways of dealing with it: scorched earth and flat-out running. Teaching them not to do something is no substitute for teaching them how to do it constructively. Teaching them that anger is not okay is literally trying to take the emotion away from them. Either you fail and piss them off, or you succeed, and they are unable to use and express a valuable, necessary, protective emotion. That is a horrible thing to do.

Telling a child that what they are afraid of is "stupid" or "nothing" or "not real" will not make them less afraid. It will only teach them that you won't listen, won't take them seriously, don't understand, and don't care. It might teach them to mistrust their own instincts. If the thing they are afraid of is another person, teaching them to mistrust their own instincts is incredibly dangerous.

Telling your child that they "do not hate" someone or something that has hurt them does not make them hate that person or thing any less. It only makes them resentful, hurts them more, makes them mistrustful, and makes them feel like they are not valued. It makes them feel like their pain is unimportant to you. It also makes them wonder what the hell is wrong with you. Teach them that hate and violence are not okay, but also treat strong expressions of dislike as signals that you need to let them talk about it and you need to listen to what your child needs to say. Children have limited communication skills and their efforts to make adults understand they are serious and mean business are often overlooked . . . well into their teens.

Telling a child that they are lucky they are not being beaten with a belt does not make them grateful to you, nor does it make emotional abuse sting any less.

Unless the person is abusive and hateful for real, telling a child how horrible their absent parent/relative is will not make them appreciate you more. It will only make them hate or fear the other person, and it will make them feel horrible for being related to that person. If the other person is genuinely a bad person, you do need to talk to your child about it, but you need to do so carefully. You are trying to arm them to defend themselves, not scare them.

Telling your child that a bully "just likes them" or is "just playing" or "didn't mean anything by it" is not okay and will not make them stronger. It will make them feel hunted and unsafe. Dismissing your child's experiences, or treating them as not serious, will not make them better able to cope with them and move on. It will only destroy their ability to deal with those things, because they have no model for how to do that constructively.

Asking your child if they want a hug or a kiss, or teaching them to show their love with hugs and kisses, is completely appropriate and encouraged. Hugging them by surprise is probably okay, too, unless they say they don't like it. Forcing your child to show physical affection to other people, however, does not teach them social skills or how to show affection. It teaches them that they do not own their bodies. This should be terrifying to you, and given the social climate we unfortunately still live in, it should be especially terrifying if you are raising a girl.

Making fun of people will not make your child feel better in comparison. It will only make them judgmental, too. Or it will make them wonder if you are judging them secretly. Or both. Hating on fat people can hurt your kid even if they aren't fat: they may fear that your approval will be withdrawn if they gain weight and start starving themselves. Making fun of people for dressing differently will make them feel like they can't express themselves without fear of mockery. Making fun of or dismissing depressed people for being "lazy" will make them less likely to trust you if they have a problem. Making fun of people of other races will only make them a racist, or make them despise you for being a racist once they realize what's going on.

Telling kids that nobody will want them if they don't change their attitude won't make them more obedient and pleasant. It will make them feel unsafe, unwanted, and mistrustful.

Making fun of your own kids will not cause them to become better people. It will only make them feel ashamed. This is especially unforgivable when it's something the kid cannot control, something caused by psychological pain or fear, or something that nobody should be ashamed of. Being fat, a stutterer, a bet-wetter, a redhead, too dark, these are not things to upbraid your child for. There's no reason to make fun of your child. Excusing it by saying you are laughing with them and not at them, or that they need to get a sense of humor and it was just a joke is shitty.

Telling kids that they were mistakes is shitty. Storming out of the house because "you just can't take it anymore" and telling them that you aren't coming back is shitty. Telling them you can't wait until they have to leave the house, even though you spent years telling them that adulthood and living outside the house is horrible and terrifying and painful, is really shitty.


The people who need to read this are most likely never going to see it. The people to whom it is addressed probably wouldn't understand that it was aimed at them. So I offer it up to all y'all who have lived with the same fallout, who have yet to understand the extent of your damage, who are still trying to repair the holes and missing stairs.

I offer it in the spirit of camaraderie, for whatever comfort it might give, to know that you aren't alone, you aren't making it up, it's fine to be pissed off and hurt about it, and even if they weren't horrible evil hateful people clean through it is okay to be honest with yourself that the hurt people do to us is still real hurt.

Keep on keepin' on.

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