January 27, 2023

The Therapeutic Parent: What is Therapeutic Parenting, Anyway?

By Hannah Sedlacek

My clients: Hannah, we’ve heard you again and again. “You have the ability to be the most therapeutic presence in your child’s life.” “Therapeutic parenting leads to children that feel safe and secure.” But, like, what even is therapeutic parenting?

Alright, parents, I’m going to give you an overview of what I see to be, “therapeutic parenting.” Let me wrap it up (with a nice bow on top) for you: Therapeutic parenting is parenting with the purpose of increasing your child’s attachment and sense of safety and security. That’s it. At the core of all of our parenting, this is what we want because (here’s the nice bow) this will result in children who are self-aware, confident, emotionally intelligent, empathetic, respectful, and able to regulate.

Where does therapeutic parenting even come from?

The concepts of therapeutic parenting are drawn from social scientists, therapists, psychologists, and doctors who have researched children’s brains and development and created evidence-based interventions. These professionals have done the research; now we do the hands-on frontlines work with our kiddos. Let’s talk about some tenets of therapeutic parenting.

Connection is everything

Connection is the centerpiece of therapeutic parenting, with all other aspects of parenting orbiting around it. It is constantly asking: How can I connect in this moment? How can I move towards my child or my child towards me, even in discipline? The possibilities for connection are endless. Every parent is different from the next and every child is different from the next. Connection can be built through playfulness, curiosity, or attunement. It comes in all different shapes and sizes, but is essential for healthy attachment and a sense of safety for your child.

In therapeutic parenting, we also have to recognize that your child is a human. WHAT?! Your child has a brain that thinks, a body that reacts, and feelings that impact their behavior. These are things that are true for all humans. They’re true for me, true for you, and true for your children. However, sometimes we do not treat our children with the same respect and acknowledgement that we want for ourselves.

Validate, validate, validate

I remember being a child and feeling like I could not wait until I was an adult and could make my own choices and have my thoughts, reactions, and feelings as validated as those of an adult. My parents would always say, “Just wait until you’re an adult – you’ll just want to be a kid again.” And, despite the never-ending stressors of adulthood, I can honestly say I do not want to be a kid again. I like my freedom, control, and the respect that I have just simply by being over the age of 18. Granted, I was the oldest, incredibly independent, organized, and bossier than Edna Mode. But I bet we all can remember a moment in our childhood when we did not feel validated in our brain, body, and feelings.

Therapeutic parenting is respecting your child’s thoughts, feelings, and body. It is showing them that what they think and feel matter and are important to you. They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

“When we acknowledge a child’s feelings, we do him a great service. We put him in touch with his inner reality. And once he’s clear about that reality, he gathers the strength to begin to cope.”

― Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, How To Talk So Kids Will Listen; Listen So Kids Will Talk

Authoritative parenting

Lastly, a core tenet of therapeutic parenting is a parenting style that provides high nurture and high structure, referred to as authoritative parenting. You’ll hear it from me, from your doctor, from your kids’ teachers – children crave structure. They may push back with all of their might, but they need it to make sense of the world. Do not be afraid of providing this structure for them; it is essential for children to feel safe. But we cannot forget the other part of this equation – high nurture. High nurture is providing an empathetic, safe space for your child that is constant and always available. High nurture parents are responsive to a child’s needs and are sensitive and validating to what they are thinking and feeling.

This brings us back to where we started – connection is everything.

I am so passionate about this work because it feels like the ultimate “prevention.” If we can change our parenting to be high structure, high nurture, and centered around connection, all while respecting and validating our child, I wonder what the next generation will look like. I want there to be a generation of securely attached children who are confident in who they are, emotionally intelligent, self-aware, empathetic, respectful and able to problem solve. Even if they can be just that, I wonder what our world would look like.

Reach Out

If you are here thinking, “Gah, I need to work on this”, “I’m feeling a lost in my parenting and need help”, or, “I really want this type of parenting for my children and want to learn more,” reach out! You are not alone in this parenting journey and there are therapists who are passionate about this and can provide that help, support, and education that you are seeking.

Hey, parent, you’re doing a good job. The god-woman of social work, Brene Brown, says, “My life is better when I assume people are doing their best.” Let’s assume the same for ourselves.

We can help you get started

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