Parenting a child who had prenatal exposures can be so challenging. One of the common challenges that parents face is the constant repetition of struggles. Every parent gets frustrated by how often they need to repeat themselves in parenting, right?
It’s More than Just Repeating Yourself
However, it’s a deeper issue for our kids who were prenatally exposed. One of the impacts of prenatal exposure is to a child’s ability to learn cause and effect. A child with a history of prenatal exposure then struggles to learn from typical childhood mistakes and misadventures, leading to repeating the struggle. These kids have significant difficulty retaining lessons and skills that a typical child might take from those challenges. Then, the repetition factor for parents of kids who were prenatally exposed feels off the charts.
We get it! Teaching and re-teaching any child basic skills and appropriate behaviors needed for life can make you feel slightly insane and impatient. However, when parenting a child with prenatal exposure, we know you need additional tools and supports that can help you adjust your perspective and scaffold your child to succeed.
It’s a Shift in Perspective
We’ve compiled this list of parenting tips to help you adjust your perspective. We hope that these suggestions will help you handle the challenges you face with your child from a position of strength. Use these tips daily to help you keep a positive, empowering mindset that tells your child, “I’m with you, all the way.”
1. From “won’t” to “can’t.”
Try reframing your perception of your child’s behaviors from “won’t” to “can’t” as frequently as you can. This reframe can remind you that his brain needs to learn skills differently. His inability to perform a task or act a specific way is not willful or obstinance. Stop in the moment of frustration and say “can’t, not won’t” under your breath if you must!
2. This is hard work!
Acknowledge that parenting is hard work. And that parenting a child who has suffered prenatal exposure is challenging work. Tell yourself that you are learning as you go and that no one expects you to be perfect all the time. Give yourself the grace and self-compassion you wish to give your child.
3. Self-care is critical.
We say it all the time here because it’s true. You cannot take optimal care of your kids – prenatal exposure or not – if you are not taking care of yourself. What types of self-care refresh you? If you can identify a couple, then schedule them into your weekly and monthly calendars. You deserve refueling so you can practice the self-control and patience that parenting your prenatally exposed child requires.
4. What else is going on?
When your child is acting out or struggling to overcome an obstacle, it might help to view her challenging behaviors as signals. The behavior that she is engaging in is a message her brain is trying to convey. Look at her behaviors and ask what might feel wrong inside your child. Think about the iceberg analogy – there is a lot more going on under the surface than you (or others!) can see.
5. Adopt a learning mindset.
Educate yourself on the building blocks of typical social-emotional development and the processes of executive function development. A good foundation in these milestones will help you pinpoint what your child needs. You can then educate yourself on how to build lagging skills or scaffold him through struggles that are commonly-occurring impacts of prenatal exposure.
6. Prioritize healthy sleep for the whole family.
We cannot underestimate the importance of sleep – for you or your child. Establishing healthy sleep/wake cycles sets up your whole family for success. We all know how we feel when we don’t get a good night’s sleep – it impacts mood, cognitive function, and our ability to connect in healthy ways. You can optimize your child’s brain health by enforcing good sleep habits.
7. Eat healthily!
You can significantly support your child’s brain health by providing great daily fuel. His ability to cope with the struggles that come from the impacts of prenatal exposure can be buffered by a healthy, well-balanced diet. You can also ward off sugar crashes, carb fogs, and digestive issues that contribute to behavior problems. Your whole family will benefit from choosing a healthy, balanced diet together.
8. What makes your child shine?
Remember that every child deserves to shine and feel great about himself. Look for the things that your child enjoys or where he excels. Then celebrate those areas! Consider his differences and provide opportunities to give him a unique niche that he can occupy differently from his siblings or peers.
9. The process is the point.
Your child with a history of prenatal exposure might need regular reminders that you see her trying her best. Shift your focus from results to the journey. Regardless of the outcome, praising her efforts and the endurance that she exhibits along the way will tell her what you value. If it helps, try repeating to yourself, “the process is the point!” or some other script that keeps you in her corner along the way.
10. Mindfulness matters.
Learn how to identify your emotional reactions and body state. What triggers you? How does your body respond to those triggers? Build your toolbox of self-regulation tricks that work for you. As you build your self-regulation muscles, you can then help your child identify and label his feelings of dysregulation. Your child will feel empowered by the ability to know and label his feelings and body state.
11. Co-regulation is healing.
As your child is learning how to identify his dysregulation, scaffold him by co-regulating. It might take some trial and error, but when you know which co-regulation tools work with your child, you can heal your child’s brain function by repetition over time. Talk about how you got to that “just right” feeling and how you will help him find it again and again.
12. Choose hope.
Your mindset and attitude about your child’s development and behaviors will set the tone for her future successes and how she handles challenges. Choose hope by letting her know that you are always in her corner and confident she can overcome this current struggle. It might help to narrate your challenges in hopeful language, like “Mom had difficulty learning xyz at work today. But I pressed in and just kept telling myself that I could do it. And then I got it!”
Shifting Your Perspective Takes Time and Patience
You’ll notice that most of these tips address what is going on inside your mind and heart as you raise this child who has impacts from prenatal exposure. We understand how hard this work is and how overwhelming it is to change how you think about the frustrations you face daily. Please don’t try and take all twelve of these tips onto your “Parenting To Do” list simultaneously. Pick one or two that feel most easily accessible to you and your current state. Work on those few until you feel reasonably comfortable with the changes you’ve made and then move on to another.
Be patient with yourself. Just as you would never expect your child to conquer three new skills at once, you should not expect that of yourself. You can strengthen the attachment between you with camaraderie, honesty, and support for each other to succeed when he knows you are learning right along with him.
Have you successfully shifted your mindset while parenting a child with prenatal exposure? We’d love to hear how you did it and what benefits it yielded — drop a note in the comments!
Image Credits: Nicolas Raymond; Jesus Dieguez Fernandez; OakleyOriginals