By: Joe Newman
Struggles, difficulties and deferred gratification are good for children. These things used to be a much bigger part of growing up and there wasn’t any other option. Today most parents have the option of giving their child almost everything they want (attention, toys, constant stimulation, choices about everything, lavish praise). One of my clients called the sickness this creates in our children “affluenza”. In today’s society it’s necessary for parents to create deferred gratification even when they have the resources to give immediate gratification. Struggles, difficulties, and deferred gratification are essential to the development of emotional regulation, intimacy, self–discipline, and feelings of connection with the world around them.
Parent like an adult, not like your inner-child. There is a natural, but unhealthy, tendency to parent our children in terms of what we needed and never got as children. Although doing this feels like being considerate of what your child needs, it’s not. It’s self-involved. Try not to parent in reaction to the way you were parented. Make a concerted effort to listen to feedback from others about your parenting and be extra reflective about recognizing the difference between what you needed as a child and what your child needs right now. Remember, no parent thinks they’re permissive.
Match the will of your child, but don’t shame it. We are raising children who are strong, confident, and tenacious. Parents must be prepared to be at least as tenacious about enforcing boundaries as children are about pushing them. It’s natural that our children push boundaries more fiercely than we did. Don’t expect them to respond to the same things that worked with us as children; they’re stronger so we also need to be stronger. At the same time we shouldn’t resent it when they question and test so often.
Recognize and acknowledge your child’s power. In both times of cooperation and of conflict do your best to point out and respect your child’s ability to make their own choices. Rather than telling them what they “should”, “must”, or “have” to do, point out that they are free to make their own choices even when you disagree with them. It’s a good way to teach them what they control and what they don’t control. “You can decide to _______, but _______ leads to this. If you’re okay with that then that’s your choice.” They control their choices. You administer the outcomes.
Don’t explain to a child what they can figure out themselves. Too much explaining makes feeble, passive children. Never tell a child something they could realize themselves with a bit of coaching or consequence. Ask questions about whether the choices they made served them well. And never tell a child something you are sure they already know. Never address problem behavior with explanations and information they already know.
Let consequences teach. Children make their choices based on what works. If rude and inconsiderate behavior gets them what they want, don’t expect them to change because this violates your moral reasoning. Don’t blame your children for their bad behavior. If you don’t like their behavior change the consequences of those behaviors.
Take the anger, judgment, disappointment, and moralizing out of your parenting. All of these things can be forms of manipulation and eventually they will backfire on you. While it’s natural to have an emotional reaction to some of the things your child does, never use emotion to manipulate or shame.
The parent is in charge and this is the natural order of things. Children who have too much control over their parents become anxious, angry, and lonely. Children are comforted by parents who assert control without negating their needs or feelings. These children are better equipped to internalize the boundaries the parent holds.
Have your own needs,and make sure your child learns to consider them. Teaching your child to consider your needs is as important as considering theirs. It’s important that parents maintain an independent sense of what they like, want, and enjoy and not allow their identity to be dominated by their sense of themselves as an excellent parent.
Embrace conflict. The less you shy away from conflict the less of it you’ll have. Learn to deal straightforwardly with aggression and dependence.
Joe Newman is a behavior consultant who trains parents, teachers, administrators, and specialists. During the last twenty years he’s taught 2nd through 12th grade classes, designed curriculum, and founded a national mentoring program. His book Raising Lions is available at Amazon.com.