I am thrilled that I started the summer off by trading guest posts with Navarre Overton, blogger at Raising Revolution. Here is her guest post for me, all about the ways we can teach, rather than control, our children. I hope you enjoy her parenting insights as much as I do!
When I first became a parent I thought I would be able to keep my child under control. In fact, I thought that keeping him under control was what defined parenthood. So, when my he had his first tantrum in the checkout lane because he wanted some of the (in)conveniently placed candy next to the register, I was mortified. I felt like I failed motherhood, big time.
That was around 14 years ago. Now that my third child has begun to dramatically tell me about all the things she wants but can’t have without a care in the world for who is watching, I can clearly see the differences in my reactions to public meltdowns. I no longer am embarrassed by them and instead just let them take their course. Most of the time I am the calm peaceful parent I always wanted to be.
It took awhile for me to get here. It wasn’t until my two oldest were tweens that I realized that the control over your children is only an illusion. It is during these years that your children will assert their independence with the tenacity of a toddler, but without the limits of complete dependence. They will insist on making their own choices about everything with the knowledge that even as their parent you have very little control over their behavior. It’s a combination ripe for power struggles.
I had to let go of the illusion of control as well as the desire to control or my house was going to be filled with the sound of slamming doors and screaming seven days a week. And because of the constant power struggles I wouldn’t be in a very good position to help my kids become decent adults.
But simply realizing this wasn’t enough, I had to replace my old philosophy with a new one. I needed to know in advance what I was going to do when my children test limits or I would just go back to trying to force my will upon them, either by yelling or punishing.
So, if a parent’s job isn’t to control their children then what is it?
To Motivate their kids to do all the things they need to do but don’t necessarily want to do.
Whether you yell or talk, discipline or punish, use rewards or praise, you’re really usually doing the same thing: trying to give your kids a reason to behave a way you want them to but yet they don’t want to. More simply put, you’re trying to motivate them.
The problem with some forms of motivation is that they rely heavily on artificial external rewards or punishments. If you want your kids to make good life choices, even when you aren’t around to give them a sticker, then you need to help them find internal motivation to do so.
So, what do I do when my toddler is pulling no the dog’s tail and I want her to stop? I give her a reason she can carry with her throughout her life to be gentle to animals. So, instead of screaming, “STOP!” I show her how much the dog likes it when you rub her belly, or scratch behind her ears.
To Inspire them to reach their full potential.
Be an example. Follow your own dreams. Be realistic, tell them it takes work, that talent isn’t all there is to success. Make sure they have grit, they’re going to need it. When they show interest in something help them explore it further.
On the surface it may appear that these things have nothing to do with getting children to behave, but if we dig a bit deeper we can see that they actually have every thing to do with it. Some of the reasons kids “misbehave” are directly related to them not working toward something bigger.
Maybe they’re bored, maybe they lack confidence, maybe they don’t feel love, or maybe they aren’t getting enough attention. Helping them focus on positive things that help them feel accomplished, loved, and appreciated goes a long way to preventing power struggles.
To Teach them how to succeed at life.
And this doesn’t mean simply telling them how to do things like get a job, you have to teach them how to figure it out themselves. Show them where the tools are and let them use them to find the answers. Ask question that help them think about how to solve problems.
This is how you build confidence in your kids. It’s also how you help them to become more independent. If you teach them how to stop, think, and make good decisions then you have a better chance that they won’t do things like give into peer pressure and drink as a teen.
And of course… To stop them if they are in danger.
Know that you can’t control your kids doesn’t mean that you never step in when things get risky. I’ve had people ask me how I keep my kids safe if I don’t try to control their behavior and my response is that I think they are safer this way. Because I understand that I cannot make my kids listen, I also understand that when a situation is dangerous enough for intervention, I have to act to stop them instead of trying to get them to stop themselves. This means that when my toddler is doing something that could hurt her, like reaching for a sharp object, I step in and grab the object or block her path to it. Sometimes she is too far away for me to reach her quickly and I might yell, but yelling should never be the first response and only response.
Beyond those four things there isn’t much I can do. Instead of focusing on results, I choose to focus on doing my job the best I can, because it really is all I can do. It’s highly unlikely, but if my 16-year-old ends up in jail, I’ll know that he is the one responsible for landing there; I am doing all I can to help him not make bad choices but his bad choices are his own. I have no control.