Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Whose experience is it?

I've been thinking a lot about discounting and belittling after spending a long weekend at the LIFE is Good Conference. The reason I have been thinking about discounting and belittling is because they weren't present in the communications between parents and children at the conference. No one said to the teens trying to walk on the ceiling, by laying on the lobby floor with their feet in the air, that they should grow up or act their age. When children were hungry they ate food, they weren't told that it wasn't meal time and they had to wait. Parents got creative so they could meet the needs of their children and still go to hear speakers or participate in circle chats. If that wasn't possible they skipped the talk and spent time with their kids. Going to hear a speaker wasn't more important than their child or their relationship with their child. When children came into a conference room looking for a parent the parent didn't shush them, or tell them to wait, the parent quietly reconnected with their child and got up to meet a need if that was required. No one frowned at parents or children as they slipped in and out of rooms, no one grumbled about walkie-talkies or cell phones disrupting. We were glad to see other parents who respected their children, who understood that a child's needs were no less important than an adult's, who wouldn't frown at us when our children were still up at 1:00 in the morning happily hanging out with friends they may not see again until the next conference.

Belittling is fairly straight forward: you say or do something that makes someone else feel smaller and you feel bigger. It is obvious when we say "You are acting like a baby!" but it shows up in many other shaming statements.

Discounting as a word may not be as familiar but if you grew up with it you'll find it easy to recognize. Discounting is when we deny the truth of a situation. We do it to ourselves, and we do it to other people. When a child says, "I'm hungry" and we respond, "You can't be hungry already, we just ate an hour ago!"

Some other discounting statements you may recognize:

"There's nothing to be afraid of!"
"It didn't hurt that bad."
"There's nothing I can do about that."
"You shouldn't be so upset."
"That's not important."
"You need to stop crying right now."
"You don't really mean that."
"She didn't really mean that."

Discounting can take the form of not acknowledging something, of acting as if a person or feeling or situation does not even exist.

When we discount our children's experience we are telling them that they cannot trust themselves, their perceptions or their feelings. "It's not that hot outside." "That movie wasn't scary." "You're a big boy, you don't need me to help you get dressed." The more we discount our children's experiences, the less comfortable they are with coming to us for help. They also learn to rely on other people's interpretations of their life experience. "You'll like this!" "That was fun." "That movie is too scary for you." "You are tired and need to go to bed." "You can't be that tired! You can keep going."

Discounting is the giving up or taking away of power. The opposite of discounting is empowering. When we empower ourselves and our children we are free to be honest about our experiences. Our children can evaluate a situation, express their needs and get those needs met. When we are empowered we respect ourselves and other people. Empowerment is working together to figure out a solution, making sure every one's needs are met, acknowledging that different people experience the same situation from their own unique perspective.

The challenge is that we may not realize we are discounting. We must practice awareness. Paying attention to the comments we make, thinking before we speak, examining what we are reflecting back to our children when we respond to their needs. We need to validate the experiences of our children, not try and modify their perceptions so that we can feel more comfortable. In order to do this we may first need to stop discounting our own experiences and emotions. If we have grown up with discounting in our family of origin we may need to regain trust in our own perceptions, reconnect with our needs and relearn that it is o.k. to get those needs met. We may have to practice respecting our own emotions as well as the emotions of our children. Don't discount discounting, empower yourself and your family. We have the power to be honest about our own life experience. We have the power to respect our children's life experiences, validate their perceptions, and watch them grow up feeling confident, loved, and respectful of other people's life experiences.


  1. Excellent post! Must share, with the hopes that some of my FB friends will read it and take it to heart :)

  2. Great post, Jenna. It made me think long and hard about my childhood, it's effects on me and my interactions with my children. Thanks for writing!

  3. posting a comment so as not to be stalkerish

  4. Also posting to avoid being stalkerish :) What I noticed about the conference was that it was such a *relief* to let go of being in control of my kids. And now that I'm back at home I am noticing some of the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that I put myself "in charge" unnecessarily. For me it is mostly about "what will people think"...if my kids don't want to wear shoes into the grocery store (lazy), if my kids eat lots of sweets (permissive), if my kids don't know grade-level math (irresponsible), if my kids are dirty (negligent), etc. I'm Jen, mom of Maya and Andrew in Vancouver, btw.

  5. My favorite part of the conference, expanding on yours, is being that kind of sweet, patient, gentle grownup with kids who are NOT MINE! I missed Kimya's concert because her daughter asked me to play :) It was not a tough choice ;)
    Was so great to spend this weekend with you and yours! <3

  6. I always stalk Jenna, and she's well aware of it. ;)

    Ah, but seriously...great blog! I'm still reeling from the experience of so many hours with grown-ups who treated children respectfully -- always! I was struck by so much of what you mentioned and I loved it. Like when kids would zip in and out of the talks -- it was so great that they had the confidence to be playing elsewhere but the knew exactly where Mom/Dad was and that they could come in and connect at any time. What a great weekend!

  7. :) It's o.k. to be stalkerish if that's your thing! However, it's really fun for me to know who is reading the words I write (or type as the case may be.)

    It seems we are all on fb because we are in w/drawl after the conference. What a wonderful weekend with all of you amazing people. It really is a blessing to spend 5 days knowing that you aren't being judged and you won't need to defend your life choices and everyone gets how you are trying to live, even if you don't do it perfectly.

    I now have two months listed on the side - how cool!

  8. Thank you so much for this post! It put some things in perspective for me.