As the new year begins, there is one resolution that needs to be made in every home in the world. Too bold a claim? I don’t think so. I traveled over the holidays across three states and witnessed this need at almost every encounter between a parent and child.
There is a mindset; an atmosphere of bullying that I hear among frustrated parents that disturbs me. If I sit next to a family who is communicating this way, it raises my own blood pressure to even hear the force of the language and tone of voice being used against one another. I don’t have to know the people; I won’t be the recipient of the threat being made but my own sense of safety is being violated as a spectator.
If I could assign a motive or emotion to the parent who uses these mannerisms, it would be strong, defensive anger. It communicates, “Don’t start it; I’m bigger than you and I’m going to get my way.” Unfortunately, the parent rarely possesses the skills to enforce the threats they have just made, so the whole situation just gets worse. The child knows the parent is essentially bluffing and after they get their own way again, the parent is even more determined to win the next power struggle.
Parenting isn’t about power. It’s about leadership. It involves influence. It should carry an atmosphere of love instead of the threat of harm. This is pivotal to everything else we do as parents. The manner in which we approach and communicate to our children sets the tone for everything we do. When we start the day or the meal out with this kind of threat, rest assured things will go downhill from here. Maybe quickly.
What can a frustrated parent do?
Getting permissive and allowing the children to run the house isn’t an option. When you are tempted to try and control the behavior of a child while you are eating out, remember the only real control you have is over your own actions. A good Love and Logic enforceable statement sounds more like, “We eat out as long as we can enjoy the food without worrying about sarcasm or defiance.” Leaving off the threat, the parent who says to himself, “I am the only one I can truly control,” prepares to leave the restaurant without receiving the food. They simply get up, say to the waitress, “I’m sorry, we will have to try this another time,” and walk toward the door. Unless the children have money to pay for the food and a ride home, they will follow.
In particularly difficult situations, the next meal would be for the parents only. The children would remain home and enjoy the company of a baby sitter. Without anger or sarcasm, the enforceable statement they hear as their parents go to enjoy this meal is, “We only go out when we can be assured that everyone at the table wants to behave and enjoy the meal.”
I must hasten to insist that these words must be spoken with calm, confident love. This is simply “how it is.” No threat. No sarcasm. No raised voices. Not even an accusation.
Rather than talking about control, parents need to exercise it. When we use a low, quiet voice and speak confidently about what we will do or allow, there is no need for a threat or escalating argument. In time, our own defensiveness will give way to a different atmosphere of reassuring strength. When we can control ourselves, we will be in a position for our children to control themselves.
That one change will make your home a completely different place next year. Won’t that be worth it?