By Gloria Ellis, M.A.
To me, it often seems as though we are raising children in individual family bubbles. Many of our communities offer few parenting guidelines. There aren’t a lot of agreed upon cultural norms for parents to follow. Our own parents do not seem to have passed on many great childrearing gems, and are often too distant to offer the type of wisdom and support that might benefit us.
Being the parent of a young child today is challenging and individual parents or parenting teams seem to be carving new paths for themselves, without a roadmap or even a clear destination. I get a strong sense of confusion among modern parents, which has, in my opinion, led to a serious problem. This problem is, what I call, “convenience parenting.” All around me, I see parents making convenient decisions about how they interact with their children rather than making thoughtful decisions based upon their individual goals for their families.
An education in clinical psychology, training in child and family therapy, a decade as an educational therapist, and seven years of parenting a child on the Autism spectrum have combined to give me a heartfelt perspective on raising children that I hope can be useful to others. Above all, I strongly feel that the single most important tenet of effective childrearing is the idea that, as parents, we must do what we say and say what we mean.
This sounds simple, but I see evidence of the difficulty in doing this on a daily basis. How many times have you heard (or made) the threat of a time out or no dessert or a canceled trip, only to then have that threat completely disregarded, never to be followed through upon regardless of the child’s response? How often have you heard (or given) a denial for a treat or toy, only to see the child end up with that same prize after persistent screaming, crying, and begging? What are the effects of these parenting decisions? They may seem minor at the time, but that is the convenience mindset- “It is better to give in now and avoid the tantrum, embarrassment or the challenge of doing something to change my child’s behavior.”
While this is certainly understandable from time to time (wide-eyed bedtime pleas are my personal kryptonite), too often this style of parenting seems to become habitual. The predictable result is children who never learn discipline, ignore the directives of their parents, and come to know, on a fundamental level, that their parents are ineffective at creating boundaries that will keep them safe and encourage them to grow into adults who possess a strong ability to self govern.
How can this be avoided? As parents, we must do what we say and say what we mean! It doesn’t have to be hard. If you’re not willing or able to enforce the consequence, don’t make the threat. If you do find yourself threatening an unpleasant consequence, you must follow through on it.
Do not tell your child that you will call the police if he doesn’t eat his spinach (I have actually heard this one). It is very unlikely that you will actually follow through on this! If you are not ready to leave the party, do not tell your child that if he splashes pool water on you one more time he will be going home. Ignore the behavior or come up with a consequence you are willing to enforce. If you say no to your child’s request, don’t give in, no matter how much begging and crying you get. Stay strong! Ignore the begging and crying and your child will learn that when you say no, you mean it. If you give in, you’ve just earned yourself additional begging and crying the next time you say no.
Again, this may seem like common sense and you may have heard it before, but many of us have a very hard time actually doing this. Force yourself to do it and you may be surprised at how easily it comes over time and how quickly your child learns to manage his or her behavior within the boundaries you have thoughtfully established.