Many parents feel really awkward enforcing boudaries.
I recently read an article on new parenting trends, and apparently exercising Parental Authority is something new. Who knew?
The article first mentioned some pretty stupid trends (although they don’t acknowledge they’re stupid). Taking the cake: toddlers in high heels. Please. That’s not a “parenting trend”, that’s a “stupidity trend”. Or perhaps a “maybe I should call Children’s Services trend”. The article comes complete with a picture of Suri Cruise teetering in high heeled sandals. Well, she is 3, after all. (Reminds me of Miley Cyrus’ 9-year-old sister who has a line of children’s lingerie. Please. Someone really should call Children’s Services).
But one trend that caught my eye I thought was pretty smart. I’ve mentioned many times on this blog that I don’t have a TV. But when we go to hotels, I like watching a lot of the lifestyle shows, and I saw a few episodes of the Dog Whisperer by Cesar Millan. Basically, the guy trains dogs by showing the dogs that he is in charge, and then by understanding what their motivations and issues are. Once you’ve figured that out, everything else is a piece of cake.
On each show, he takes some dog that is completely out of control, and often violent, and shows how you can calm them down quite easily when you show the dog that you are the boss. It turns out that dogs often act violently to make up for a deficiency they sense in their master. If the master isn’t taking control of the situation, then it must mean that they want the dog to. So the dog tries hard to protect the master, to deal with all outside threats, and to be quite mean.
Apparently a lot of parents started watching this show and thought that it had implications for the way we parent. Maybe kids act up when they don’t feel that you are in control. The article says:
Just like your Labrador retriever, kids are comforted by structure and knowing you’re in charge, Hicks says. And like Fido, they’re paying less attention to your words than to your attitude. “Ninety percent of what you communicate to your kids is nonverbal,” Hicks says.
So, when you’re telling them no or making a request, “keep your energy calm and assertive,” she says, using Millan’s watchwords, “never angry or threatening.” As Hicks explains in her parenting advice blog, children gain security and learn respect from your confidence, which translates into better behavior.
Parental Authority requires Parents Having Confidence
I wish sometimes that I could just give parents a confidence pill, so that they would know that they have the power, authority, and God-given right to steer their children in the right direction. Children shouldn’t be allowed to choose most things for themselves, because they don’t have the wisdom or the life experience to make those decisions. Children shouldn’t be allowed to do whatever they want, because they don’t have the capacity to understand what is in their best interests.
When children feel as if you are not confident as a parent, it creates a void in their lives.
They start to feel scared. Who is going to teach me about life? Who is going to teach me how to behave? And so they start testing the limits by acting just like those out of control dogs–barking, snarling, attacking. They yell, they fight, they run around like a Tasmanian devil because inside they want someone to stop them. They want someone to tell them they are not in control, nor do they have to be.
Sometimes we’re in denial, and think our kids are great, and the problem is with everybody else. I know many parents who say their children behave fine at home, but as soon as they’re in school, they can’t handle things and get in trouble. Some of this honestly is from ADD; parents have learned how to steer the kids in positive directions and adjust, and the school hasn’t.
But in other cases it’s because at home there really isn’t any parental discipline or any parental boundaries.
And when there aren’t boundaries, the kids aren’t breaking any rules, so there’s never any yelling or fighting. The kids eat dinner in front of the television, fall asleep wherever they happen to lie, never put their toys away, and leave messes everywhere, but they don’t get in trouble because the parents assume this is the way things are supposed to be. They’ve never learned basic parenting skills.
That same child gets to school where there is structure and they can’t handle it. So this child that the parent has no real beef with is now considered a discipline problem. How did this happen? Because the parents set no limits, so there are no limits to contravene.
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I have known parents, even within the church, who are raising kids who are horrible and don’t even seem to know it. So I want to give you a reality check on what parents should have in place. This doesn’t mean you always do these things (our kids had bedtimes, for instance, but we’d let them stay up late occasionally), but in general, these things should be in force in your home:
Must-Do Rules for Exercising Parental Authority
1. Kids should have a consistent bedtime.
They should go to bed, on their own, in their own rooms at bedtime. Usually this means that you have bedtime routines that could involve reading them stories, giving baths, and saying prayers. By age 13 or 14, you may decide not to enforce a strict bedtime, but it’s a good idea to have your kids be in their rooms at a certain time, anyway, just to give you more privacy as parents!
2. Kids should never be allowed to talk back to their parents or call them names.
If a child calls you names, this is not something to laugh at. This is serious.
3. Kids should be required to put their own toys away and pick up after themselves.
By age 2, they can help you put toys in a toybox. By age 5 or 6, they can start to make their own beds. (Here’s a list of age-appropriate chores).
4. Children should sit at a table during mealtimes and should eat what you eat.
Parents, in general, should not be preparing a separate meal for children once they reach 3, because they should be eating what you eat (when making tacos, I used to take out ground beef before I added the spice to give to the girls, but in general they ate what we made, even if they didn’t like it).
5. Children, in general, should understand the difference between being in public and being at home.
By age 4, they should be able to act properly in public, within limits. If a child throws a temper tantrum, they should be reprimanded and dealt with appropriately.
Naturally these are things that will be difficult. Getting my girls to eat what I cooked was always a challenge when they were young. I’m not saying, then, that these things will be easy. They should at least, however, be on your radar screen. Move towards these goals, even if you’re not completely attaining them. At least know that you should be aiming there. I know some parents who do not even seem to be aiming there, assuming that it is impossible.
It’s not. Kids need to feel that you are confident in your parenting and your discipline, and that you know what is expected. If you don’t know, how will they know? So if your children honestly aren’t listening, and don’t do any of these things, ask for help. It means that you are missing out on some important things in parenting. I’m not trying to be harsh; it’s just that if you understand it, you can work to correct it, and your home life will be so much better.
If you have any specific questions on how to reach any of these things, fire them my way! I’d love to try to help! And in the meantime, remember: you are the parent. You have more power than you realize. Your child wants to listen to you. Don’t be afraid to set limits!