When we make children feel powerless, forcing them to submit to our will, this often generates intense anger, and just because that anger can’t be expressed at the moment doesn’t mean it disappears. What happens to it depends on the child’s personality and the specifics of the situation. Sometimes the result is more battles with the parent. As author Nancy Samalin comments, even “when we ‘win,’ we lose. When we make children obey by force, threats, or punishment, we make them feel helpless. They can’t stand feeling helpless, so they provoke another confrontation to prove they still have some power.” And where do they learn how to use that power? From us. Not only does authoritarian parenting make them mad; it also teaches them how to direct that anger against another person.
Such children may grow up with a constant need to thumb their noses at authority figures. Sometimes they bring all that hostility with them to school or the playground…
And sometimes, if a child is afraid of defying you to your face, he’ll figure out a way to do it behind your back. Lay-down-the-law parenting may produce kids who seem to be so well behaved as to be the envy of the neighbors. Often, however, they’ve just learned to be sneakier about their misbehavior, which sometimes turns out to be appallingly mean-spirited.
Alfie Kohn – Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason p.55
I want to propose a baker’s dozen guiding principles. Each of these has practical implications that may be more surprising and challenging than its capsule description would imply.
Here they are all together:
- Be reflective.
- Reconsider your requests.
- Keep your eye on you long-term goals.
- Put the relationship first.
- Change how you see, not just how you act.
- Be authentic.
- Talk less, ask more.
- Keep their ages in mind.
- Attribute to children the best possible motive consistent with the facts.
- Don’t stick your no’s in unnecessarily.
- Don’t be rigid.
- Don’t be in a hurry.
Alfie Kohn – Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason p.119
A few basic signs [of reliability]:
- Keeping one’s word about the small things – time home, calling as had been agreed, being (pretty) honest about who’s around in others’ houses.
- Your internal feeling that what your child says makes sense – pay attention when it doesn’t add up – you’re probably onto something. The truth usually flits across your mind and you ignore it.
- Both you and your partner get the same – or at least a similar enough story. Kids can only play us against each other if we don’t bother to talk to each other.
- Giving you enough time to truly think about a decision – feeling less like a hostage to time pressure makes you feel more trusting.
- Owning their behavior – without torturous explanations or excuses.
- Your child is not afraid to tell you the truth – even if it’s not something you don’t want to hear. This is a hall-mark of mutual trust – in your child and your being a reasonable, firm parent.
- Your child has a couple of good friends, regular playdates and receive calls – a sign of trustworthiness with peers.
- Other parents are truthful around you – and do not hold back important information you then hear about later. This openness usually indicates your child is acting within acceptable bounds when you’re not around.
- Your own growing sense of trust – be clear-eyed, but be open to seeing and enjoying your child’s maturation.
Ron Taffel – Childhood Unbound p.175
Remember to acknowledge only when you mean it, and not every time you notice a change for the better. I emphasize this because child rearing went terribly awry in the praise department with our kids, turning a powerful necessity into something so cheapened it became inauthentic and perhaps even destructive. Have you ever wondered whether the past 30 years’ emphasis on robotically praising our kids has actually been good for them? And have you considered that there might be a link between rote, reflexive adult praise, and the proliferation of a harsh reality–TV shows laced with “brutally honest criticism,” as well as the ever–edgy tone of the second family? I believe these 21st century phenomena of “mean “might in part be a manifestation of our decades-long love affair with praise.
For a while, I and others in the child-rearing world have been sensing that the self-esteem movement parentheses (which began in the sixties and seventies after the discovery of family violence and hidden abuse behind closed doors) was a profoundly important contribution to understanding and ensuring the safety of our children. But by the nineties it had gone way too far and created unintended consequences. Three decades after its “discovery,” boomers, post–boomers, and now the free–est generation have come to consider continuous praise a staple of life and a necessary precondition for work to be done.
Ron Taffel – Childhood Unbound p.160
Today’s parents must learn to appreciate the shadow of temperament as Jerome Kagan puts it. Children’s hard wiring can guide your footwork out of clumsy, frustrating dances. Temperament, or basic characteristics, are noticeable to every parent from early on, and remain fairly consistent through the teen years. If you recognize this and try to match your movies in the dance with your child’s basic temperament, you’ll have a greater chance to authentically engage, and spend less time fighting. Here are some of the main temperamental constellations to watch for and how to approach each:
- Sensitive child – tone of voice, pacing of questions, much less yelling.
- First-time fearful child – practice, go slowly, let child’s reaction guide.
- Tenacious child – offer a “limited choice,” either one of which you can accept.
- Active child – allow fewer choices, talk small and quick, arrange a lot of everyday physical activity to burn off energy, and be on the look-out for food allergies.
- Difficulty with transitions child – simple, but harder than you think: cut down on the number of transitions; one less per day can make a huge difference.
- Low frustration tolerance child – anticipate escalations ahead of time, and always try to attend to biology: not enough rest, hunger, and over-stimulation. Physiology always wins.
- Clingy child – prepare your child for transitions, more one-on-one time, try to make sure there are fewer surprises for this kind of temperament.
- Scattered and disorganized child – ask kids to repeat what you said, help with gentle reminders and break tasks into smaller chunks. This “executive functioning” will get somewhat better with age, but not as quickly as you would like.
- Quiet or low mood child – mindset is critical: low-grade moodiness is not a rejection of your love, which is how it feels to many mother and fathers; much more down time is needed, as well as reassuring rituals.
Ron Taffel – Childhood Unbound p.95