Parenting’s troubled history: Why changing family patterns is our most important work

apunish2As we learned from the CDC-Kaiser Permanente ACE Study, negative childhood experiences are often kept secret, downplayed, or repressed because of our powerful desire to put such things behind us. Unfortunately, our minds and our brains don’t work that way. Patterns can play out automatically, no matter how hard we try to be original and create our own realities.

Just as it is important to know family medical history (e.g., diabetes or tuberculosis) it is equally important to know about our social inheritance.

What is your ancestry? What destructive patterns did your parents and grandparents overcome? Think back to your childhood, to how you were disciplined. What were the consequences in the short term? In the long term?

There is a chilling quote from Time magazine essayist Lance Morrow, from his ACES-informed book, Heart: “Generations are boxes within boxes; inside my mother’s violence you find another box, which contains my grandfather’s violence, and inside that box (I suspect but do not know) you would find another box with some such black secret energy—stories within stories, receding in time.”

Punishment and Fear-Based Leadership

Authoritarian or autocratic leadership, the very strict style predominant in early 20th century European countries, was also the predominant style in the U.S. before the 1960s. Many families and subcultures in America still abide by this style. The primary goal of authoritarian parents is obedience; their tools are blame, shame, guilt, threats, force, and abuse. Their goal is to control, and their greatest tool is punishment.

Punishment appears to be an easy fix in the short run, but it can actually cause bigger problems in the long run—instilling fear, distrust, and resulting in a damaged relationship. Youngsters learn that it is okay to bully to get their way. Furthermore, punishment causes great confusion: “How can the most important people in my life, who should be loving and protecting me, be attacking me?”

Research shows that punishment increases aggressiveness and behavior problems, and lowers IQ and academic performance. Punishment provokes anger and the desire for revenge. When backed into a corner, humans may revert to their basest instincts.

The American Psychological Association states that “corporal punishment is violent and unnecessary, may lower self-esteem, and is liable to instill hostility and rage without reducing the undesired behavior.” The APA adds, “corporal punishment is likely to train children to use physical violence.”

Yet, many parents still rely on punishment, holding beliefs such as,

  • “My parents used it and I turned out okay”
  • “My parents never punished me, and I didn’t turn out okay”
  • “You have to beat your own kid or the world/the police/others will beat him/her.”

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Are there non-medication alternatives for ADHD treatment?


[Photo: robert_rex_jackson, Flickr]

The Question: While more than two-thirds of youth diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity use prescription medication to control their symptoms, it’s not uncommon for both parents and children to want a non-drug alternative. The guidelines recommend evidence-based behavior therapy as the primary treatment for pre-school age children; older students are advised to try ADHD medication alone or in combination with behavior therapy. Despite these clear recommendations, clinicians and parents may not know that alternative treatments exist, or how to access them.

The Alternatives: Three types of non-medication interventions have been demonstrated as effective for ADHD.

  • Parental training is designed to help caretakers improve their own communication and discipline practices. The goal is to better manage a child’s behavior by encouraging positive behavior and deterring what might be seen as classic ADHD conduct. Four parent training programs have been shown to reduce disruptive behavior: Triple P; Incredible Years; Parent-Child Interaction Therapy; and, the New Forest Parenting Program.
  • A mental health professional typically delivers psychosocial therapy, counseling a patient and his or her family on a regular basis about how to manage ADHD symptoms. These therapists, however, may not know the latest evidence-based techniques for working with children who have ADHD.
  • Behavioral therapy focuses on teaching children important skills, such as organizing, socializing, and problem solving. Showing parents and teachers how to help manage behavior and symptoms is an essential aspect of behavioral therapy as well. Some of this training may take place in the classroom, depending on the school’s resources, but it can also occur at sites where therapists have been specifically trained in evidence-based ADHD interventions. Two such examples are the Summer Treatment Program at Florida International University’s Center for Children and Families and the Challenging Horizons Program at the Center for Intervention Research in Schools at Ohio University.

These treatment types can overlap. For instance, some therapists use behavioral modification while behavioral therapy programs often have a parent-training component. For more information about the types of treatment and their costs, see this brochure (PDF) produced by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

A Note on Trauma: None of the behavioral

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