It’s Not Called Permissive Parenting

by Derek on September 23, 2008

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The Leader

The world is full of followers, but you’re not one of them. – JL Glass

I recently attended a seminar taught by JL Glass (he’s a very funny, charismatic speaker), and he mentioned that he tells his kids that. It got me to thinking about all of the messages we give our children, both verbally and through our actions, and how much of our parenting, good and bad, we inherited from our parents.

Growing up, we may have thought that we would do things way different than our parents. By the time we become parents ourselves, we realize that our parents had reasons for the way that they did things. And now we raise our own children in our own home with our values and morals, and then they go out into the world and we hope for the best. They are exposed to many things outside of the home that we would not necessarily choose for them: maybe it’s popular music, or fashion, or junk food, or the desire for more consumer goods, whatever… And part of parenting is letting go and trusting them to make decisions for themselves.

So how do you get to that point of trust?

Well, to generalize, there seem to be two main parenting styles – controlling everything, and letting the child control everything. Some parents decide everything for their child, from their food choices to their friends and activities. I grew up with some of that, and I resented not being able to choose. I’ve also seen some parents that describe themselves as “natural parents” that let their kids choose anything, and the parents get run all over by them. In my humble opinion, giving a child free rein doesn’t seem to be very effective in the long run. I think there’s a middle ground that is respectful to the parents and the child, and that effectively teaches the skills for family living and future involvement with the rest of society.

Some of the parenting guidelines that have worked for us:

  • Our actions must be in line with our words. If we tell a child one thing and then do another, what do they learn from that? I got called on this by my daughter recently, and I learned something from her. Imitation is how children learn almost everything, and their sense of integrity comes from our own.
  • Our children must know that they are loved. Distinguishing between your child and your child’s action is super important. A child is never bad. They may misbehave or screw up (in our eyes), but they are still our beloved child, doing the best they can. And they need to hear that they are loved, often.
  • Our children must have some choices. They do need to be able to control a tiny part of the universe, even if it’s only choosing which plate to eat from. Being able to make compromises so that everyone’s needs are met is a cornerstone of a strong family.
  • We must openly communicate about our expectations. If they don’t know what is not acceptable, children can’t be held accountable for their actions. We are the parents. It’s up to us to teach them.
  • No bribery. We don’t bribe our kids or offer them rewards for promising “good” behavior.
  • Setting clear boundaries is also freedom. It’s kind of like baby-proofing a room. When children know their boundaries, they are free to explore in a safe environment. We also have time limits for things like movies or internet access, so they get some of what they want, while we get some of what we want (no couch potatoes).
  • We must stand behind our words. If we have clear expectations for behavior, and clear consequences for misbehavior, then we need to be firm in administering them. No free passes… One of the consequences in our family for disrespectful behavior is doing extra chores. Our reasoning is, if we want to be able to enjoy all of the good things as a family, we all have to play our part and help out. If we have a child throwing a fit about not getting their way, then our whole family is affected by it. Pitching in to help with the not-so-fun stuff works for us. Usually they calm down about halfway through the chores, and they realize that they actually have it pretty darn good most of the time…
  • Speak positive words and give kudos for good behavior. Just acknowledging the tiny bits of growth that happen everyday is uplifting to kids. A kind word is a powerful thing. We internalize the messages we get, so let’s help by spreading more love and less criticism.  Praising the positive and encouraging it in our children ultimately takes way less energy than focusing on the negative behavior.

All you need is love… well, and some positive discipline.

Derek writes about fathering, food, toddlers, tweens, and other random goodness at Natural Father.

Image: Hamed Saber at Flickr under Creative Commons

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Derek (4 Posts)


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Sommer-Green and Clean Mom September 23, 2008 at 8:40 pm

I’m a Love and Logic Fan. I like this post though. I have caught myself saying the word, “bad” or you are being “bad” . My husband is worse with this word. I make sure I tell my son or daughter that they are making some “bad” choices but we love them. We just don’t like what they are doing. What can do about that? Why are they doing this? What can help them? I know conversation is important but there is a limit. My four year is going to be a lawyer and if I kept chatting with him about a bad choice…he’d win! He’s good. So I have to remember who is the parent sometimes too!

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Christian AP Mama September 26, 2008 at 4:18 pm

I’m glad you wrote this post. I parent the way my parents raised me, without the spanking, in a great big pot of love and choices but with very clear limits. I don’t thnk you can teach your child much by letting your child just do whatever they want. Passing down morals and values means you have to have some limits somewhere. That’s what I like about API including Positive Discipline in their Eight Prinicples of Parenting. Discipline, done in a loving manner meant to teach, is promoting attachment. Letting your kids do whatever they want whenever they want it seems like the best thing short-term, but in the long run, they’re going to have major troubles in life because they’ll be selfish, won’t respect authority, and won’t be compassionate and empathetic adults. You’re right, people seem to get stuck on it’s either child-centered or parent-centered and more really need to look at a balance between the two. Great post!!!

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jane May 1, 2009 at 3:01 am

when my son was very small, discipline was not an issue in my attachment parenting. whatever he needed he usually got e.g. breastmilk, my attention if at all possible. of course he needed very little except these most basic things. he also seemed to understand that what i was doing was always in his best interests and he trusted me, so i never had tantrums (well, once).

however, now he is a strapping, confident 6 year old and discipline is an issue! i just get by, but often i do have to fall back on ‘doing chores’ as a kind of positive punishment. sometimes i get angry and shout, or send him to his room for a while. however, i do have a chronic illness, and for this reason, it can be harder to keep my cool. anyway, v. interested in this subject, still looking creatively for solutions.

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jane May 1, 2009 at 3:32 am

i would like to add, that i am going to buy a book recommended on this website:

Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent and Energetic – by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka

the description fairly sums up my son!

and i think i would like to try and find some new ways of approaching things ….

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