Connection-Focused Parenting is a parenting style that focuses on establishing a mutually trusting, respectful and reciprocal relationship with your teen. The upside of this approach is your teenager is more likely to let down their guard around you and see you as an ally. This means that they are more likely to come to you for and accept your advice, follow your lead and internalize your values.

Connection-Focused Parenting - Principle One: Radical Acceptance

Parenting that emphasizes connection makes building your relationship the focus of your interactions with your teen. This in turn will equip your teen with a sturdy foundation of self-acceptance, self-worth and resilience.

This parenting approach allows your teen to feel seen, heard and accepted for who they are as their authentic selves. A teenager who feels seen, heard and understood is more likely to cooperate because of the love and trust that is established between the parent and the child. The resulting feelings of belonging create an emotional environment where teens can develop compassion and empathy and learn to care about the impact of their behaviours on others intrinsically.

Connection-Focused Parenting For Neurodiverse And LGBTQ+ Teenagers Prioritises Four Things:

  • Secure attachment with a significant adult.
  • Accepting and affirming your teen’s Neurodivergent and LGBTQ+ identities.
  • Connection before correction.
  • Adapting your parenting approach to your teen’s needs, strengths and difficulties.

Being A Connection-Focused Parent In A Control-Focused World

Many parents understand what connection-focused parenting is in theory. However, parents struggle to know how to be a connection-focused parent in practice. One of the main challenges for us adults is that we ourselves were raised in control-focused parenting culture. This is a primary parenting style that many of our parents used on us. Control-focused parenting emphasizes modifying children’s behaviours so that they will conform and ‘fit in’.

Read more about Connection-Focused Parenting vs Control-Focused Parenting here

You don’t have to look far beyond the slew of social media posts on Facebook, Instagram and Tik Tok. Posts on ‘reparenting ourselves’ and ‘how to heal trauma’, as well as the alarming number of people in therapy, highlight the long-term consequences that generations of control-focused parenting have had on our combined psyche.

So many parents have reflected to me the harm that being ‘controlled’ by techniques such as time-outs, smacking, ignoring and punishment and’ never feeling as if they were enough’ had on them. They want to do something different for their children but don’t know how.

This leaves us with a conundrum. Many of us don’t want to be like our parents but don’t have the tools that allow us to be any different.

Connection-Focused Parenting - Principle One: Radical Acceptance

And as the old saying goes:

“When the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail”

Abraham Maslow

A Community Of Cycle Breakers

If this is something that you have identified in your own childhood and/or parenting experience. If this is something you are wanting to change or you are actively working on changing please know that you are not a bad person and you are not a parent.

We can only (every single one of us) ever do the best with the tools that we have. When we have new tools we do better.

As a fellow parent and parenting educator, I know one thing for certain about you. If you are here reading this blog and are contemplating a change you, my friend, are an extraordinary human being. You are a brave, courageous cycle breaker, ready to dig deep and do the work to heal generations of trauma for yourself and your kids. This is not something that is easily done or for the faint-hearted. However, it is some of the most important work you will ever do for yourself and your family.

Welcome to the community of Cycle Breakers!

Connection-Focused Parenting Blog Series

My previous blog, What Is Connection-Focused Parenting And Why It Is Important For Your Teen, briefly touched on a few foundation principles of connection-focused parenting. I wanted to go a bit deeper into the principles. My goal is to give parents practical applications of the connection-focused approach to parenting.

That is why I have created this blog series for you. Each blog will explore one of the principles of connection-focused parenting. By reading these blogs, you will receive practical tools that you can take away and use in your real-life situation.

These principles are universal and work for families of neurotypical and neurodivergent teens (or a mixture of both). However, there is no one size fits all and only you will know if they are suitable for you and your family. Wherever possible I have endeavoured to include research and ways that these principles can be used in an LGBTQ+ and Neurodivergent-affirming way.

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Principle One – Radical Acceptance AKA Parent The Child You Have

To me, this is the most fundamental principle of connection-focused parenting. It is the most important principle. We cannot form an authentic connection with someone when we are trying to change them to become who we think they should be. Radical acceptance is something that all children and teens need from their parents. It is a fundamental human need, and yet, even though it is the most essential principle of connection-focused parenting, as a parent it is the most tender and difficult principle to apply due to our innate human need to be accepted.

Connection-Focused Parenting - Principle One: Radical Acceptance

Let me illustrate this point with Mary and Darcy’s story:

Darcy is a seventeen-year-old autistic. Her mother Mary wants Darcy to be happy and have friends. Mary notices how other teenage girls are around Darcy. They say mean things to Darcy and don’t want to be around her. This reminds Mary of her own awkward teenage years when she was bullied and didn’t have any friends. Mary desperately wants to spare Darcy this hurt. Mary suggests that Darcy stops talking about her special interest to other girls and acts more like them so that she will fit in and have more friends.

The ‘Not Enough’ Wound

Now I want to be clear here, in my opinion, Mary is not a bad parent. If you identified with Mary in this scenario, you are not a bad parent.

Mary’s strategies, although potentially damaging to Darcy, come from a place of love and fear for her daughter. Many of us inherited a wound of ‘not enoughness’ from our own parents. Whether we were compared to a sibling, had a parent who lived vicariously through us, or had impossibly high expectations, we bear the scars of this. Our experiences during our formative years with peers also leave their mark. This wires up our nervous system in a way that causes us to act defensively.

Our children’s behaviours trigger this wound. Many parents react in a similar way to Mary. This wound can stir up tremendous fear for our children in us. We also feel the shame that we were somehow ‘not enough’ to protect them from our experiencing the same childhood pain we endured.

Connection-Focused Parenting - Principle One: Radical Acceptance

We can get so stuck in our thinking of the child we were supposed to have or the parenting experience we were supposed to have. This view, which is largely influenced by the predominant messages from our culture, can cause us to think that we are doing something wrong when our reality does not live up to our expectations. We stop seeing our children’s behaviours as a window to their needs as individuals separate from us and instead see these behaviours as confirmation that we are doing a bad job as parents.

Every culture has them, the ‘unwritten rules’ of what we need to do to ‘fit in’. How we are supposed to be – how our children are supposed to be. The narrowly defined prerequisites of what successful parenting should look like.

Our attachment to our expectation of ‘what it was meant to be like’ is the main source of the feelings of grief that so many parents experience when their child is diagnosed as neurodivergent or comes out to them as queer or transgender.

We first have to let go of the child that our culture led us to believe that we ‘should’ to have so that we can accept and love the child we have.

Tanya Valentin

Points For Reflection

I invite you to take a moment here to think about yourself and your culture.

  • What was communicated to you as a child (explicitly and subtly) about what it meant to be a ‘good child’?
  • What was communicated to you (explicitly and subtly) about what it meant to be a ‘good person’?
  • What was communicated to you (explicitly and subtly) about what it meant to be a ‘good parent’?
  • How does the culture (family influences, teachers, books, television shows, movies, social media etc.) that you live in reinforce these messages?
  • How much of your beliefs about parenting was your idea and how much of your beliefs are just messages that you heard from others and never thought to question?
  • What do you need to heal or let go of in order to practise more acceptance of yourself and your teen?

How To Practice Radical Acceptance

The messages we received from our culture can be tough to go against. As humans, our programming is all about fitting in and being accepted. This is a deep existential and multi-generational wound. A wound that we instinctively try to protect our children from through our control-focused strategies. A deep part of ourselves remembers the isolation, and the punishment we received for not conforming. The fear and shame from our ‘not enoughness’ cause us to try to modify our children as we react to shut down what we see in them that was not allowed in us.

Father Son Connection-Focused Parenting

The goal of the control-focused parenting approach is to modify the child to fit into a particular mould so that they will be accepted by others. Parenting from a place of comparison of our child to another or trying to ‘change the child’ causes our teens to compare themselves to others. Our children come to judge themselves as falling short in some way. They then fall into a vicious cycle of ‘trying harder’ to meet others’ expectations. The more we try to ‘change the child’ the more we risk invalidating who they are and communicating to them that they are unworthy because they don’t meet our or others’ expectations.

Now I’m not saying that you have to like or even accept your teen’s bad behaviours. I am not saying that you need to ‘get over’ what you are feeling or bypass your emotions. Where you are in your parenting journey and how you feel are totally valid.

I am also not suggesting that we let go of our hopes and dreams for our children. Nor am I saying “stop preparing your child for the future”. What I am simply asking you to do is accept the reality of who your child is and parent from this place.

When you argue with reality, you lose— but only 100% of the time.

Byron Katie

Parenting The Child You Have, means that you stop focusing on your and other people’s expectations of who your child should be. You stop trying to control, change and mould them. Instead, you accept them for who they are. A person – whole, complete in their own right. A beautiful, unique soul burning with their own indescribable light.

Instead of defining your child by their outward behaviour, I challenge you to see your child. Hear your child. Love and accept your child for who they are. This radical acceptance is the greatest gift we can give to our children.

Radical Acceptance And Implications For Parenting Neurodivergent Teens

The principle of Parent The Child You Have, focuses on meeting the individual needs of the child. This is important for all children but even more so for families of children who are neurodivergent.

There is still a huge misconception out there that Autism, ADHD etc. are illnesses that need to be ‘cured’. Another dominant misconception is that neurodivergent children and teens need to be taught how to act more ‘normal’ to fit in. This thinking is widespread due to generations of ignorance and misinformation about neurodiversity.

Whether your teen has been formally diagnosed or not, neurodivergent teens have a deep inner knowing that they are different from their peers. Teens who are part of the LGBTQ+ community don’t choose their sexuality or gender, they are born knowing. When they are raised in a control-focused environment this intensifies this feeling of being ‘othered’ and the need to try to fit in. Many neurodiverse people are only diagnosed as Autistic or with ADHD later in life and have learned to mask to fit in.

Parenting a Neurodivergent Teen

Neurodivergent children and teens are more susceptible to RSD (rejection-sensitive dysphoria).

Rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD) is extreme emotional sensitivity and pain triggered by the perception that a person has been rejected or criticized by important people in their life. It may also be triggered by a sense of falling short – failing to meet their own high standards or others’ expectations.

Many Autistics use masking as a strategy to make others feel more comfortable around them and to protect themselves from the rejection of others. Masking is exhausting and has been proven to have dire consequences for neurodivergent persons including anxiety, depression, burn-out and suicide.

Putting This Into Practice

Putting this concept into practice can be as simple as changing the questions you ask yourself about parenting your teen.

  • Old question – “How can I change my teen so that they will be prepared for the future?”
  • New question – “How can I love, accept, enjoy and celebrate the person that they are now?
  • Old Question – “How can I modify my teen’s behaviour so that they will meet the comfort needs of others?”
  • New Question – “How can I teach my teen to look inside themselves so that they can trust that their own intuition and needs are important and valid?”
  • Old question – “How do I get my teen to conform so that other people will accept them?”
  • New question – “How do I support my teen to be the person they are so that they can know, accept and feel safe inside themselves?”

Healing For Families

For our teens to feel genuinely safe they need to be seen, heard, accepted and loved for who they are.

When we can love and accept these orphaned parts of ourselves in our children it provides an opening for us as parents to go back to where we stopped loving ourselves and love and accept the person we are. Instead of triggering feelings of shame and inadequacy, our radical acceptance of our teens offers us a powerful invitation to reparenting and healing ourselves.

In this way, our communication through our thoughts, intentions and actions of our children’s ‘enoughness’ is powerful healing for both parent and child.

Enjoyed this blog and want to read more in this series?

Would you like to learn how to use Neuro and LGBTQ+ Affirming Connection-Focused Parenting with your teen? Find out more about the Seen Heard Accepted Parenting Program. CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE.

Meet The Person Who Wrote This Blog

Tanya Valentin

Tanya Valentin is a Parenting Coach, Author, Podcaster and Allyship Advocate for Families of Neurodiverse and LGBTQ+ Teens.

As a Neurodivergent person herself and a proud Mama of 3 Neurodivergent and LGBTQ+ Teens, she works to support, educate and spread awareness and acceptance.

Tanya lives with her family in beautiful Northland, New Zealand. She has authored several books and blogs. She is committed to making a difference in the world by equipping parents and families of Neurodivergent and LGBTQ+teens and young people with the tools they need to connect with and empower their children to feel safe being who they are so that they can take up the space they were born to fill.


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