If your child does not understand when you are serious, and to recognize the point where there is no longer any question about whether he or she needs to obey you, then you could end up potentially endangering your child.
I watched as a father shouted to his son not to run into a parking lot and his son didn’t listen. If a car had come at that moment, he could have been hit. There is a tone of voice that needs to be instilled in a child as the voice of authority. This is the voice that stops him from running into traffic. Training to acknowledge this voice needs to happen at a very young age.
Part of training is watching a child’s response and acknowledging appropriate responses. “You listened nicely. I like that.” A child who feels loved and nurtured will naturally want their parents’ approval.
Praising your child’s behaviour is a positive interaction, however direct praise that defines a child, like, “You’re a good girl,” is not very helpful. It creates a spectrum of good or bad along which a child then has to land, in his or her mind. For example, “Earlier I was good. Now I am bad.” It’s better to praise the behaviour and to draw out traits, for example, “That was a kind thing to do.” Or, “I like it when you listen like that.” Make the praise brief.
The child realizes they can do this again and it empowers them. They can’t, however, control their identity–who they are–if you tell them they are good or bad.
Make the behaviour, not the child, the focus. When you remark on their behaviour, as in, “That was not a nice thing to do,” saying so will affirm what they already know, and prepare them for choice and decision making in the future.
Point out positive behaviour in others too, and occasionally draw attention to negative behaviour, but not in a derogatory way. “That little boy is not listening to his mother,” is a simple observation.
Every child will test the boundaries. The trouble is some parents don’t know where the boundaries are because they have not set them. A parent must be clear on what lines will not be crossed without consequences.
Testing boundaries is one thing. Defiance is another. An attentive parent will know the difference. Testing, in the mind of the child, says, “Maybe I can get away with this?” Defiance says, “I clearly know you don’t want me to do this but I will do it anyway.” A parent decides what unpleasant consequence will follow defiance.
A child actually feels more secure, knowing there are boundaries and consequences when these boundaries are violated. The sense that there is someone wiser in charge makes the world less scary.
Generally the child knows ahead of time what happens as a result of defiance or outright disobedience. The important thing, however, is that the child knows that there will be something unpleasant to follow. It does not have to be prolonged and shouldn’t be harsh, but it should create enough discomfort to serve as a future deterrent. Experiment with various consequences. Some will work for certain children and not for others.
A team concept is the second thing a parent needs to know how to establish. If the parent/child relationship beings with a sincere desire and effort to work together and be on the same team, then the child will be much more inclined to obey in an emergency situation.
Being on the same team happens as a result of trust building. The child believes you are there for him or her and that you want the best for them. Together you are working towards the best outcome. This requires taking time to explain situations to your child, the “Why” of the things you are doing and what you are allowing or not allowing.
One very helpful way to build a team sense is by playing games with your child. They learn there are rules and consequences and they learn to accept both. Engaging in learning activities with your child teaches them to trust your instructions and your insights.
Using “we” and “us” language, instead of “you,” makes the child see you are working together. Knowing what the outcome you want will look like, helps the child to move in that direction over time. In our family we wanted a “happy family.” This meant that Mom had to be positive and encouraging most of the time. One thing we did was try to part with a good memory and greet one another on cheerful note.
A parent has a long term goal to have a good relationship with an adult child. This begins with teamwork as a youngster. That is why a parent provides for the child’s needs and helps him or her with various tasks and eventually teaches them the importance of taking on these tasks and then paying it forward and helping others.
The team concept still requires that you are the coach. You are not equal team members. The child looks for and expects authority from you and is disappointed when it is not there, even though he or she may rebel against it from time to time. Be an inspiration to your child.
There is no such thing as perfect parenting. We learn as we go. But basic guidelines will help us to end up in a good place most of the time.