That Inner Parent Voice

That inner parent voice sometimes echoes past opinions of my grandmother, teacher, father, and mother. They expressed their loving concern for me, unaware that the child was translating every word they said into the underlying feelings conveyed by their voice tone, posture, whispers, and feelings as well as the child’s filters.
by Dr. Caron Goode
That inner parent voice sometimes echoes past opinions of my grandmother, teacher, father, and mother. They expressed their loving concern for me, unaware that the child was translating every word they said into the underlying feelings conveyed by their voice tone, posture, whispers, and feelings as well as the child’s filters.
    They said, “She eats like a bird.”
       I translated, “I peck my food. Something’s wrong with that.”    
    They said, “The wind would blow her away.”
       I translated, “I’m too skinny.”   
    They said, “Be good.”
       I translated, “Why? Is something wrong with me/”
    They said, “She has Aunt Edna’s nose.”
       I translated, “It’s big and ugly.”
    They said, “Be home by ten p.m.”
       I translated, “They don’t trust me.”
Whatever we say about or to children in our third-or-second-person point of view, the child translates into their first person point of view. [tag-tec]Kids[/tag-tec] often think in terms of I and me because their early years feature an egocentric picture in which they are the center of their worlds. All interaction, whether verbal or nonverbal, is first felt by the children. Then their linguistic structure tries to fit it in a familiar category for expression.
Our well-intended expressions of care and concern shape our children’s lives! Children remember these phrases as adults thirty and forty years later, because they had such an influential impact. When I was growing up, one boy younger than the neighborhood play group lived out the “poor Johnny” syndrome. We often heard his parents say, “That poor boy. What’ll become of him?” In the small Catholic school we attended within the community, we heard teachers whisper, “Poor Johnny. He’ll never learn.” Our parents would gossip, “That poor boy won’t amount to anything.” And the other neighbors reinforced it by their common belief, “Ya, you’re sure right. That boy is in for some real trouble. A real mean streak, I’ll tell ya!”
And tell us they did. Poor Johnny didn’t have a chance to overcome his reading difficulty or the continually reinforced poor self esteem mirrored by the entire community that was his world. Some thirty years later at my father’s funeral, I saw Johnny’s sister, and asked how he was doing. What had happened in his life? I physically shrank from her when I heard the same phrase all these years later, “Well, poor Johnny . . .” began her response as she explained his unproductive life and drug addictions.
The real question for our parenting is how much of that voice did we internalize and how much do we let it influence our behavior as adults? If we are not completely honest in our expression, children feel it. If we try and smooth things over, they know it. If we speak in hushed tones, they wonder what’s wrong. If we gossip covertly, they feel we’re hiding something. 
If our “I am fine. Nothing’s wrong” speech doesn’t match the frown or the worried look on our face, children feel the lack of congruence. They become wary of what we say and may choose to not listen, or they may think they understand when they don’t.
Clear, congruent communication can help make children’s internal parenting guidance a caring, kind, and honest voice that will follow them the rest of their lives.
Not one of us wants to be guilty of a negative, unhappy, incongruent parenting voice. When we communicate, let’s commit ourselves to doing it responsibly! How? By
being aware of what we say, how it comes out, and how children receive it.
We may think of communication as a one-way street—we speak and our children automatically hear and understand what we have to say. This is rarely true. Two-way communication involves our speaking and ensuring that our children heard it. Let’s make it our responsibility as parents to facilitate our children’s listening and attending abilities in our daily conversations. We can do this by building in some automatic phrases that become part of our daily parenting:
  • Tell me what I said to you so I make sure that you got it.
  • Give me a “Yes” if you got it.
  • Please repeat that.
  • Are we clear?
  • Please say it again. I’m not sure you understood that.
As a [tag-ice]single mother[/tag-ice] of a one-and-a-half-year old daughter in the mid-seventies, I was often harried and cross. I took my daughter to a day care center at seven in the morning and picked her up at six at night. Our evenings were very important to me, and I honestly tried at the tender age of twenty-five to “be a good mother.” In order to relax, I would have a glass of wine when I got home and had another while I fixed our dinner. It was important to me that we ate our meals together.
She was always a happy, smiling, bright-eyed child who seemed to enjoy whatever she did. One evening, she really didn’t seem hungry, and I wanted her to eat. She said very quietly, “no.”
I raised my voice to a pitch I had never used with her and pounded my fist on the table. The alcohol had loosened my tongue too much, and I screamed at her to eat. Her bright eyes turned glassy, and then teary. She bit her lower lip and her body shook. Sobs!
I observed what I had done. And I consciously chose never to yell at or hit my child or expose her to any form of violence again. I, too, burst into tears at the sudden knowing that I had the power, through my words and tone of voice to encourage my daughter or to traumatize her for the rest of her life. What awesome power in our words!

Caron’s entrepreneurial fun takes place at the Academy for Coaching Parents International which provides training and certification for students to operate Parent Coaching businesses. As a mother and stepmother, Caron knows firsthand the importance of parenting skills and that nurturing children with joy, common sense, and connectedness enriches and benefits both parent and child. Her newest book is Help Kids Cope with Stress and Trauma. Her expertise has made her a frequent media expert and her work has appeared in Colorado Parent, Convergence, The Joyful Child, Energy, Black Family Digest, and Better Homes and Gardens. She and her husband Tom Goode, ND, live in Ft. Worth Texas.

Post Doctoral Work: (1996-1998) Institute of Transpersonal Psychology; focus on Women’s Psychology and on Wellness
Doctorate of Education: (1979-1983) The George Washington University, My degree is in Counseling Psychology, with the major, Human Development and Leadership and a minor in Special Education.
Masters of Communication: (1972-73) Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio TX. Major was language and minor was learning disabilities.
Bachelor of Science: (1971) Oklahoma University of Liberal Arts, Major was Speech Therapy and Deaf Education.

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