How do you strike the balance between being ‘in control’ but not overly ‘controlling’?
There are so many different terms for parenting styles (instinctive, attachment, slow, helicopter, tiger, BFF, toxic, snowplough etc.) Sometimes there is a mistaken belief that the two main choices are either authoritarian or permissive. However, there is somewhere in the middle known as ‘Positive Parenting’. This is parenting with clear limits but in a loving, empathetic way.
Controlling parents mainly use fear, punishment, threatening, bribing or shouting to get children to co-operate – the old fashioned style of discipline. But are parents who use this approach actually ‘in control’? Many parents have told me how being raised this way damaged their self-esteem and confidence, made them feel guilt and shame and encouraged them to rebel. They were only compliant when the parent was around and very focused on ‘not getting caught’, rather than doing the right thing because it felt good. Often these children end up too dependent and don’t think for themselves.
We absolutely need to be in control so our children are safe and responsible. In fact they won’t be prepared for adult life without our guidance and support.
So how can parents be in charge and enforce their position gently?
- Relationship and connection is everything. In a trusting, close relationship children will naturally want to co-operate and please us. Spend short bursts of one-to-one ‘special’ time with them. Love = Time
- Be empathetic. What children want most is to be heard, understood and valued. When a child is experiencing a difficult emotion, reflect back to them how they are feeling. They will calm down quicker, know you are truly on their side and learn how to articulate their emotions.
- Notice and mention anything positive rather than criticising and commenting when they do something wrong. This results in more co-operation and increases the chances of your child listening to you.
- Establish clear rules, routines and boundaries so children know what to expect. Involve your child in creating the rules and at the same time determine the rewards and consequences so you are not making up punishments on the spur of the moment out of anger or desperation. In the long term, punishment erodes your influence on your child.
- Parents should maintain a ‘united front’ and agree together on the best approach. If not, children may become confused or take advantage, playing one parent off against the other.
- View mistakes as a learning opportunity. Encourage your child to problem solve and establish what to do differently next time.
- Model being a leader rather than a dictator. Try to balance both your agenda and your child’s by taking into account their temperament and stage of development. Respect is earned by our actions and how we communicate.
It takes time, positivity, great effort and consistency to establish your influence so your child has good judgement and chooses the right path for themselves.