The Importance of Seeing Your Child as 'Good Inside'

Connection-Focused Parenting is a parenting style that focuses on establishing a mutually trusting, respectful and reciprocal relationship with your child. The upside of this approach is your child is more likely to let down their guard around you and see you as an ally.

This is important for all child-parent relationships. However, even more so for our neurodivergent children and teens as many of them feel ‘othered’ by peers and society. Our neurodivergent kids are also more likely to be affected by conditions such as RSD (rejection-sensitive dysphoria), PDA (pervasive drive for autonomy) and sensory overwhelm which can put their nervous systems into defence mode. Our children need a safe place to land with us as a vital protection factor for their mental well-being.

Need Support? Check out The Neurodivergent Family Toolbox

Connection-Focused Parenting for Neurodivergent Children and Teenagers Prioritises Four Things:

  • Secure attachment with a significant adult.
  • Affirming your child’s Neurodivergent identity.
  • Connection before correction.
  • Adapting your parenting approach to your child’s unique needs, strengths and difficulties.

Many parents understand what connection-focused parenting is in theory. However, parents struggle to know how to be a connection-focused parent in practice. That is why I have created this blog series for you. Please make sure to go back and read the other blogs in this series. You can do this HERE.

Subscribe to The Connected Parent Blog and get notified when a new blog is published straight to your email inbox.

Everyone Is ‘Good Inside

My work as a family coach is inspired by and based on the research and wisdom of many amazing professionals in the fields of attachment, responsive parenting, polyvagal theory, emotional intelligence and non-violent communication. Last year when I was listening to the We Can Do Hard Things podcast I discovered Dr Becky Kennedy and her words just resonated with me. Dr Becky’s work is based on the idea that everyone is ‘good inside’.

Connection-focused parenting is based on the assumption that we are all fundamentally ‘good inside’. In other words, you are a good person and your teen is a good kid.

This might sound deceptively simple. Of course, our kids, and we as parents are good inside. But stay with me here. It is easy to hold onto our idea of goodness when everything is going ‘right’, when we are calm and regulated or when our kids are behaving as we believe that they ‘should’.

However, when our child has just had a meltdown, we argue with our partner about how to handle a parenting situation, or we are exhausted, overwhelmed and ‘over it’ it is very easy to see the worst in ourselves, our partner or our child. It is very easy to believe that we are ‘bad inside’.

Need Support? Check out The Neurodivergent Family Toolbox

Why Is Believing We Are ‘Bad Inside’ So Easy?

Well first of all we are hardwired for this. Our brains and nervous systems are wired for survival and that means that our brains are wired to look out for threats – AKA seeing everything with a negative bias. That is why it is so easy to think the worst about the intentions of the people we love. If you are a neurodivergent person you may be affected by RSD which can make you extremely sensitive to rejection. This can ‘prime’ your nervous system to expect the worst as a survival strategy.

Messaging In Our Culture

Our culture also plays a huge part in our mindset about parenting. I invite you to stop here and think about some of the negative, and damaging, messaging we traditionally hear about our children (even tiny babies).

What are some of the common messages you have heard or read in your culture about children in the following stages of childhood?

  • Babies
  • Toddlers
  • Young children
  • Teenagers

Chances are you have heard that babies are ‘manipulating’ you with their cries, toddlers are ‘terrible’ and teenagers are ‘difficult’ and ‘moody’ more than once. The common way that we are taught to deal with the ‘badness’ in our children is to ignore, isolate and punish them. No wonder it is so easy for us to see them as ‘bad inside‘.

Differing Neurotypes And Communication Styles

Our family is made up of differing neurotypes. That means that our brains all work differently.

Good inside parenting

Different neurotypes communicate differently. Research has shown that neurodivergent people communicate better with other neurodivergent people and neurotypical people communicate better with other neurotypical people. Neither way of communicating is right nor wrong, they are just different and this can cause confusion and misunderstandings. This is especially true when we lack awareness or understanding and don’t make accommodations for this in our relationships.

Here is an example to illustrate my point (I would like to acknowledge that we are all different and this may not be true for everyone).

Sarah is neurotypical and the mum of 14-year-old Sophie who is autistic and recently diagnosed. Mum does not understand Sophie’s need for clear instructions when doing a task that is new to her.

She expects Sophie to use her ‘common sense’ a vague concept that is difficult for Sophie to understand. Sophie gets overwhelmed and has a meltdown because of her executive dysfunction – the information is coming through to her faster than she can deal with it. This frustrates Sarah who sees Sophie’s behaviour as disrespectful and manipulative. She yells at Sophie, which only makes the situation worse.

This is a common scenario, and if you identify with this situation please take heart Sarah and you are not bad parents. Remember you are both good inside.

Sarah did not understand Sophie’s need for clear instructions which led to Sophie and Sarah becoming dysregulated. This could be further intensified as Sarah was taught to believe through the messaging from her culture that Sophie’s behaviour is manipulative.

If Sarah had been aware of Sophie’s differing communication needs and had the tools to modify her own communication style this situation could have gone very differently.

Need Support? Check out The Neurodivergent Family Toolbox

Needs, Emotions, Behaviours

In direct opposition to the control-focused parenting model of modifying behaviours (the key focus of control-focused parenting), connection-focused parenting views behaviours as a window to our normal and very human needs.

As previously explained, connection-focused parents work from the assumption that their children and teens are good kids. They separate their child’s identity from their behaviour.

“many parents see behavior as the measure of who our kids are, rather than using behavior as a clue to what our kids might need.”

Dr Becky Kennedy

Now let’s be clear, this does not mean that we become permissive parents or excuse bad behaviour. However, when we remember that behind the behaviour is a good kid, it allows us the space to get curious as to why the behaviour is happening in the first place.

We can choose to see our teen as a good kid who is struggling with something that is causing the behaviour (as in my example above).

We can reframe our thinking from our teen giving us a hard time to our teen having a hard time.

Connection-Focused Parenting For Teens - Good Inside

After all, behaviour is just a symptom of an underlying need. Emotions are powerful information about our needs.

Realistically, as human beings, we are not going to get our needs met all of the time and neither are our kids, that would be impossible. However, when we try to understand (and help our children to understand) the needs behind their behaviours we get to the root cause of why the behaviour happened in the first place.

This leads to calmer, more regulated nervous systems (in both children and parents), reduced anxiety and perceived ‘acting out’. This thinking is equally true when considering our own self-care needs as parents too.

Becoming A Needs Detective

Overall, when we focus on needs instead of behaviour this helps us to honour our children and ourselves in a holistic, empowering way. When we destigmatise needs and hold onto our child’s inherent goodness this makes it possible for us to experience a deeper connection with them.

So you may have read this blog and be saying to yourself, “Okay I get it. I understand the importance of needs, but how do I find out what my child’s needs are? I haven’t got a clue!

That is where the role of the Needs Detective comes in. Each of us as parents has the ability to look at the clues of our child’s behaviour and to detect what the most probable needs of our children may be.

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What is going on for my child right now?
  • What is a similar thing that has happened in my life to what is happening for my child?
  • What are some of the things that I struggle with or have struggled with in this parallel situation?
  • What is my child likely to be feeling?
  • What is my child feeling that I don’t understand about them?
  • If I remember that my child is a good kid who is struggling, what might they be struggling with?
  • What might be some of the deeper needs for my child behind this behaviour based on my answers to these questions?

Important Note: Neurodivergent children and teens have a lower tolerance to stress and change which can easily cause distress and overwhelm. For parents of autistic and or ADHD kids understanding the sensory needs of your child and supporting them by reducing demands or ‘bad’ sensory inputs or helping them seek out ‘good’ sensory inputs can have a dramatic impact on helping them to regulate their nervous systems.

Awareness of when a neurodivergent child or teenager is overstimulated and needs to retreat with no demands placed on them is vital to their well-being.

Need Support? Check out The Neurodivergent Family Toolbox

The Positive Impact Of Multiplicity

One thing that I found to be super helpful as a parent in shifting my thinking from criticism to compassion is the notion of multiplicity. Multiplicity means that we make space for ‘two things being true’ at the same time.

Examples of this:

  • My child could be doing their best and might not meet the expectations that I placed on them. (Especially if the expectations placed on them do not take into account how their autism or ADHD is affecting them)
  • I can make a bad decision and be a good parent at the same time.
  • I can be a parent who is struggling to keep her cool and love my kids and want the best for them.

As mentioned before, the belief that we are good inside does not excuse us from our behaviour when unacceptable. However, when we can remember that ‘two things are true’ our behaviour does not define who we are as a person. We can change our mindset from ‘I am a bad parent/my child is a bad kid’ to ‘I am a good parent/ my child is a good kid who made a mistake.’

Shame hardly ever leads to a good outcome. Multiplicity thinking reduces shame and gives us the option to hold onto our inherent goodness while we make more empowered decisions free from the anxiety and panic that stems from a dysregulated nervous system. ‘Two things are true’ is an amazing tool to have in your parenting toolbox as well as your relationships with others such as a co-parent.

“Understanding that we’re all good inside is what allows you to distinguish a person (your child) from a behavior (rudeness, hitting, saying, “I hate you”). Differentiating who someone is from what they do is key to creating interventions that preserve your relationship while also leading to impactful change.”

Dr Becky Kennedy

Mind Those Expectations

Parenting has singularly been the most rewarding and hardest job I have ever done. It is so complex!

I know firsthand, that when things are hard it can make you believe that you are doing it wrong, or that you are a bad parent.

This can be intensified if you as a person, have lived most of your life as an undiagnosed neurodivergent person with maladaptive coping strategies. It can really make you feel that you are a bad person – that you are ‘bad inside’.

We also tend to place really unrealistic expectations of what parenting should be like on ourselves. The way that parenting is portrayed can make it so easy to believe that being a good parent means that I must know everything and never make a mistake.

I myself have had times where I mistakenly believed that I had to prove my worth as a mum by providing my children with a ‘perfect’ life without any struggles or hardships. When I ‘failed’ to do this I made it mean that I was a bad parent.

For parents of neurodivergent children (especially when your kids are undiagnosed) these feelings of ‘not enoughness’ are often intensified by the implied and often explicit cultural judgements that your child’s struggles are due to ‘bad parenting’.

woman carrying girl while showing smile
Photo by Brett Sayles on

You Are Good Inside

If no one has told you lately, You are good inside, my friend! You are a good parent and your children are lucky to have you!

Even if you said the wrong thing, lost your sh#t or made mistakes – You are a good parent!

Even if your child or teen is struggling, has anxiety or depression and is finding life hard – You are a good parent!

Need Support? Check out The Neurodivergent Family Toolbox

Over To You

To allow you to put the principle of ‘Good Inside’ into practice, here are some further questions for reflection:

  • How can you see the ‘good inside’ yourself and your teen?
  • How is shame or believing that you are ‘bad inside’ showing up in your parenting decisions?
  • How can you use ‘two things are true’ as a parenting tool?

Please remember to comment and share this blog with others who it may help.

Meet The Person Who Wrote This Blog

Tanya Valentin Neuro-Affirming Family Coach

Tanya Valentin is a Trauma-Informed and Neuro-Affirming Family Coach, NZ Registered Teacher, Lecturer (Te Pukenga – Early Childhood Education and Care), Author and Podcaster.

Tanya is a Neurodivergent person and a proud Mama of 3 Neurodivergent humans. She works to support, educate and foster inclusion, acceptance and positive life outcomes for all neurodivergent children, teenagers and adults in all her areas of life.

Tanya lives with her family in beautiful Northland, New Zealand. She has authored several books and blogs and co-hosts the Seen Heard Accepted Podcast with her family. Tanya is the founder of the Neurodivergent Family Toolbox and the Parenting Neurodivergent Kids Together Community and podcast.

Tanya is committed to making a difference in the world by supporting parents with practical tools and strategies to help them understand their child and their unique wiring, feel confident in their parenting and nurture strong connections between themselves and their children.

Need personalised support for yourself and your family? Book your FREE 30-minute call with Tanya


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *