Over the years I have noticed a definite shift in the current approach to parenting. It seems to me that many, many parents are more concerned with being a child’s friend than being the one who sets limits and enforces discipline.
In the more extreme cases, there is no attempt to correct inappropriate behavior. These parents believe that it is best to allow kids to fully express themselves in the way that the child sees fit, and that by interfering with his actions, they are somehow limiting the capacity for him to be who he is.
As a result these kids walk all over their parents, becoming the literal ruler of the home-(”You can’t tell me what to do-I’ll come when I’m good and ready”). These children tend to show little consideration for the rights and property of others, steamrolling their way through public venues and other people’s homes. Meanwhile the parents are helpless to intervene, if not oblivious to the upheaval their kids are creating.
Once when I was at a gathering with my young children, a little boy came up to my three- year-old son and bashed him in the side of the head with a rock. Mama Bear (myself in protective mode) snatched that kid up, set him on the steps and admonished, “Don’t you ever do that again! That hurts!!” He immediately got up and ran crying over to his father who responded in a sing song voice, “oh, you shouldn’t do that…”
At the other end of the continuum is the over protective, controlling parent who doesn’t let their child out of their sight, demands perfection, or constantly steps in on the child’s behalf, thereby not allowing him a chance to work things out for himself or learn from his mistakes.
Neither one of these approaches is fair to the child.
In order for a person to become a well-adjusted and productive member of society, he needs to be allowed to discover who he is, and how to navigate societal expectations. Among other things, this involves learning self discipline and manners, how to work out peaceful resolutions to conflict, and being allowed to identify one’s own talents and passions.
Children are not able to do this without guidance in terms of defining what behaviors are unacceptable (e.g., being disrespectful, hurting others, stealing, lying, breaking things), and providing suitable consequences for misbehavior.
Don’t be afraid to be firm; but keep in mind that use of force only teaches a child to be angry and fearful, and that power is what counts.
Consequences for misbehavior should make sense to a child:
- Time out to collect himself when he loses self-control (a simple rule of thumb is one minute per year of age);
- Loss of privileges if responsibilities have not been fulfilled;
- Restitution or replacement of property that has been damaged;
- Returning a stolen object in person.
A child with clear limits knows where he stands. Being inconsistent confuses him and makes him try harder to get away with everything that he can. If he expects a certain outcome each time he misbehaves in this manner, he learns that it is not okay to act this way, and if he does, there are consequences.
Before you give an ultimatum, ask yourself whether you plan to carry out this action, or is this an empty threat- one that you have no intention of following through with. Empty threats (e.g., “If you won’t put your toys away, you won’t have any toys!” or “If you don’t come now, I’m leaving you here!”) are a desperate attempt to regain control over a situation, and children will challenge you to see who is actually in control.
If you give a warning that you intend to follow through on, make sure that it is an appropriate consequence to the misbehavior, and that it is fair to everyone involved. Don’t punish yourself and other family members for one child’s misbehavior (“If you don’t load the dishwasher right now we are not going to the movies”)
Parents need to come to an agreement regarding discipline, otherwise children gain the upper hand by playing one parent off of the other. Above all, strive to be consistent. Make clear your expectations and follow through with appropriate disciplinary measures as necessary. RDW (7-5-10)