You may have heard about or read an article in Maclean’s magazine (macleans.ca) in Canada or current publications in the USA, about the views of Dr.Leonard Sax, an American physician who has serious reservations about the parenting ability of today’s parents. He has written The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-ups. He puts forth some strong points on how children are often disrespectful of others, and in need of leadership and lessons from their parents. However, I must disagree on his reported advocacy of authoritarianism in parenting.
Today’s children do not respond to orders, to punishment, or even to rewards for good behavior. But they DO respond to recognition of behavior that contributes positively to family life. Just like workers in many of today’s corporations that have encouraged participation in decision-making and the everyday life of the company, children respond to being asked to be actively involved in their families, helping to set schedules for weekly activities, and being appreciated for helping with family chores. Not only that, kids can help to set the consequences for when they break the rules that they and the family can make together. Parents don’t have to say, “Because I said so!”
A child who is ordered to do a job, clean up his room or eat his meal is far more likely to rebel than a child who is encouraged to help the family, perhaps choosing a chore, or choosing the day he cleans his room. You see, there is a subtle difference between being dictated to and being allowed to make a choice within a framework of expectations. What do I mean by this?
Obviously, maintaining a home has many responsibilities to make it run smoothly. If parents asked the family to sit down and list all the duties required, mentioning that they needed help from the kids, they’d likely find that family members would be interested in participating. When kids are encouraged to contribute their ideas, they usually come forward with great suggestions. Asked how they’d like to help, and which jobs they’d like to do for a week, they’ll choose something that interests them. They might need a little coaching especially if the job is new to them. The following week, job choices can change if requested. This kind of approach is far more effective than ordering a child to do a job in an authoritarian way.
I think that parents are on the right track when they want to treat their kids with respect. If they could couple that respect with the realization that they must provide limits for the children, and then provide choices within those limits, family life would run more smoothly. Parents are in charge, and must make decisions that kids aren’t old enough or experienced enough to make. It’s HOW the rules are carried out that can be made more democratic, with input from the kids within those limits and decisions.
Please, don’t go back to “Because I said so!”. Just use the Golden Rule of Parenting: treat your children as you would like to be treated, but in a secure framework of family life that you as their parents put in place.
For details on the above ideas, please see my book Parent with Confidence: Power Tools for Bringing Up Great Kids or contact me. I’m happy to talk with you and assist you in any way I can.
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