This title is from the often-played hit song from One Republic, “Counting Stars.” I think it is my song of the month for this lyric alone. I like to crank it up and yell that part. Because, right?
Do YOU want to be told what to do? No, of course you don’t! Do you sometimes need to follow the directions of others? Of course. Do you often need your kids to follow directions? Yes, you do. But here’s the thing. The old ways of getting kids to “do what they’re told,” are rooted in fear and shame: demand, command, spank, yell, use time-out, take away privileges, and impose other “consequences.”
I get it. Modern parents are in a bind. Our culture’s views of children thus far have evolved from a model where children were once useful commodities who helped out with the family farm or business. But things have changed. Jennifer Senior, author of All Joy and No Fun calls modern children, “economically worthless but emotionally priceless.” And yet, children are still not viewed or valued as whole people. Despite many cultural shifts, we have not come very far from wanting children to “be seen and not heard.”
Generally speaking, people approach parenting from a perspective of just wanting to control children’s behavior. They use the aforementioned cadre of coercive and authority based approaches because they have forgotten (or simply don’t know) two things:
- Children are immature humans and are doing the very best job they can do to manage their behavior, emotions, and whole selves given their developmental stage.
- Children’s development unfolds in a fair predictable manner. MANY undesirable behaviors will cease ALL ON THEIR OWN if parents can enforce safety in a dispassionate manner, acknowledge a child’s experience, while staying emotionally connected with their child and offering guidance.
The fear-based authority model for parenting is not good for humans. A few additional tips:
VIEW your child as a whole competent human—even in infancy.
CONNECT with them authentically on a daily basis (children cannot survive on their own and they know it, so just “feeling disconnected” from a parent feels like a threatening “emergency” which fuels “bad” behavior.
REFLECT feelings to a child while intervening to STOP unsafe behavior. Say: “I can’t let you hit your sister even when you feel really mad.”
TEACH through example. Humans are social creatures and children will eventually follow your example most of the time (Ironically, even if you don’t want them too!).
If we want to raise loving, kind, compassionate, helpful, respectful, human beings who can exhibit self-control and emotional regulation, well then, that’s exactly who we have to be.