Monday, 25 January 2010
It is hard to say just when it was that parents started to blame themselves for the things that go wrong with their children. Parents of special needs children are particularly prone to blame themselves if their child has some sort of learning deficit. Perhaps if they had made the child work harder, longer, more practice… things might have been different. But the truth is there is nothing that the parents did or could have done or should have done that would have prevented it.
The truth is that there are neurophysiologic reasons for learning disabilities. Kids aren’t just sometimes stupid or lazy. There is a scientific reason for it usually. Doctors and researchers use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to show differences in the brain for these children. Indeed, Dr. Xavier Castellanos in personal correspondence found images of ADHD in the central nervous system. So while it may be “in their head” it’s not made-up. It is the child’s brain that makes the difference.
So why does it happen? Well, there is this myth out there that children are a blank slate and that the environment writes on that slate and the result is the child’s “misbehavior.” It must, therefore, be the parents fault. They just didn’t spank them enough; punish them enough, stand firm enough, whatever it is they assume the parents have not tried.
Even Dr. Parker (who wrote a book with Dr. Spock) once wrote about the parent blame game for his blog on WebMd. He said, “Most parent-bashers have no idea of the forces shaping children’s development and behavior …” This is often the case and because it has been ingrained in the culture, parents are often vulnerable to believing it.
Dr. Parker also said pediatricians helped contribute to the problem as they are not required to take a course in developmental psychology and many don’t think they need to. But yet, these doctors are trusted as experts in the development of children!
And who can forget the influence of Bruno Bettleheim and his “refrigerator mothers” theory? This theory was that basically mothers were cold, indifferent, and uncaring and therefore the autistic child did not learn how to love, show that love and empathize. This theory has been positively debunked and yet the stigma still remains for many parents of children with autism.
Indeed parents who are told that their child has some sort of disorder or disability, often wonder what they did wrong or worry that other family members will blame them. They often receive advice on how to "fix" this child without the other person knowing anything about the problem. This can be not only frustrating for parents, but also can lead to parents doubting themselves and wondering what they could be doing differently or did not right.
So how do parents stop blaming themselves? Moms and Dads need to say it to themselves, “This is not my fault. I did not create this.” while working on improving his or her child’s deficits. Mom and Dad also need to find support. If there are no family members to lend a supportive, non-judgmental ear, then hook up with a local support group or find one online. Mom and Dad can also research into the exact cause, if known, of the particular challenges the child faces. Knowing the exact scientific cause often relieves parents of their unwarranted guilt. Even if a cause is not known, research can show a scientific association sometimes for possible causes.
All moms and dads at one time or another blame themselves for the child’s choices of misbehavior… and for things the child cannot control. Parents need to recognize that there are just some things we cannot control and therefore are not to blame. Of course, there are things that we can change, fix, augment, and so on and should strive to identify those things. But we should not blame ourselves when our child has a special need. And aside from all that, blame does not one bit of good to the child. It does not fix the problem; it only distracts one from finding a solution.
Do you blame the parents?