Our early experiences as children shape the way we make sense of the world. They form the beliefs about ourselves and others, and these beliefs then shape the patterns of behaviour we develop throughout our lives. I think it makes good sense, therefore, to pay this some attention.
This June, the Brighter Minds Book Club have read ‘The Book Your Wish Your Parents had Read (And Your Children will be Glad You Did!)’ by psychotherapist, Philippa Perry.
The work I do as a CBT therapist focuses on helping you make improvements in the present but we often take a little journey back to some of those early beliefs. I always caveat that understanding where these beliefs come from isn’t about casting blame on parents or other caregivers but validating that our present challenges make sense in the context of the experiences we've had in our earlier years.
The author articulates this with empathy throughout the book, acknowledging that parents are generally trying their best. This isn’t a book about pointing fingers at our parents, but understanding how the role of parenting affects us, and our children if we have them. The book focuses on attitudes towards emotions and parenting with a focus on the benefits of supporting children to learn how to notice and regulate their emotions and offers practical examples of ways to do this.
Can you imagine if we all had this skill? If we all had a positive relationship with our emotions and the confidence to tolerate and manage even the most distressing feelings? If we could all do this, I’m sure the world would be a much happier and kinder place. We’d certainly have better mental health.
This book has a lot of potential to be preachy and others who’ve joined me in reading this have shared finding that at times. I think this book will be received differently depending on where the reader is in their parenting journey, if they decide to embark on the journey at all.
Reading Notes From a Therapist
As a book nerd, I made so many notes reading this. It’s been a hard task to pull out the key points I most want to share. Here are three key takeaway points:
Be a Role Model
It is outlined in this book that the core role of a parent is to role model helpful behaviour, in the hope that the child will learn to develop four key kills:
The ability to tolerate frustration
The ability to empathise
For me, this is about investing in our own self-awareness and emotional intelligence. If we can understand and regulate our emotions and behave in ways that are helpful for us, we are in a much stronger position to teach others to do the same. I think that this is true across all relationships but especially with children and they are so highly influenced by their parents.
Behaviour is Communication
The author makes an honest observation that sometimes, children are seen as annoying or attention seeking. She highlights that all behaviour observable in a child is a form of communication. If we can understand what the child is trying to communicate through their behaviour, we can help them communicate in a more helpful and effective way.
I would argue this is true for adults too. I’m sure we can all think of things that our relatives or colleagues do that repeatedly annoy us. Perhaps if we try to think about why they are doing that, and possibly even try to address that underlying need, we could support a change in the annoying behaviour. Or at the very least, we may find we have a little more compassion.
Feel Your Feelings
There is a bold statement in this book, that distraction is manipulative. When we try to distract a child away from distress, we are trying to change (or manipulate) their feeling and reactions. In doing this, we prevent them from learning to manage their feelings. The author gives the example of taking a child for an injection. She suggests that rather trying to distract them, telling them honestly that it may hurt a little and that focusing on their conversation will help them manage this. This way, the child knows what to expect, can trust in the parent for being honest, and can be soothed in their distress.
It may sound obvious but I’m sure we have all experienced times where we have actively avoided or distracted ourselves from a difficult emotion. We may have avoided a situation that made us anxious, held back tears, tried not to think about something, or busied ourselves so that we don’t have to tune in to a difficult feeling.
By doing this, we tend to prolong the unwanted emotion. Acknowledging it as it arises enables us to firstly, much better manage it and secondly, provide the opportunity to learn from experience that we can manage our emotions and so build our resilience and confidence in coping.
A Therapist’s Book Review
My view is that author writes with compassion, acknowledging that people may be reading this at different stages of their lives - with or without children. She emphasises throughout the book that parents with older children may be self-critical about having not known about the research and guidance she shares and emphasises that we are always learning and we can always repair ruptures that may have occurred.
I would say that this book is perhaps most applicable to those preparing for parenthood – purely because it offers the opportunity to reflect on how to apply this knowledge to their parenting approach in advance. However, I have also recently spoken about it to clients with adolescents displaying behaviours that is causing them stress and frustration. We all have emotions and so the core messaging throughout this book about how our early experiences shape our own attitudes and behaviours in response to emotions means that in my opinion, it is of relevance to us all.
A Final Thought
I would also add that as a therapist, it can sometimes be assumed – by others and also ourselves – that we have a gold star in managing our own emotions and role modelling this beautifully to all those around us. We are also only people and we are also always learning. From a professional perspective, I think there is also value in reading this to further develop our emotional intelligence for both our personal development and to benefit our approach to the work we do clinically.
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