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Don’t Let Your Child Take the Lead

At times parents can find parenting extremely frustrating. “Why can’t they just stop?” We ask. “Why doesn’t she listen?” When we are really frustrated and don’t know what else to do to help the situation, we scream at them to “STOP” throwing a tantrum.

27421988_lThe problem is, we expect the child to calm down before we do. When in reality they need us to model what calming down looks like. This is a lesson that is learned quickly with new parents, who realize their baby needs them in order to be soothed. She needs the adult’s presence and care, and sometimes needs to be held close to her parents for her heartbeat to regulate and match theirs.

In order to help our child, we must first help ourselves to recognize our own emotions as well as our power to influence the relationships we have. Emotions can be extremely contagious, and children can be especially sensitive to their parents’. We need to learn not to copy them (yelling and screaming matches) but for them to learn from us how to handle their emotions. Soon our mere presence is a signal to them “everything will be okay.”

You can help your children learn to trust, respect, and fall in love with you by taking the lead in some concrete ways, namely by setting limits, being fair, and showing your love and affection:

Set Limits.

Children need proper boundaries for them to feel safe and to grow. Give them enough room to play and explore but let them know what is okay and not okay. Telling them they cannot hit you or others protects everyone. Through the limits you set, they learn how to treat others and how they should be treated. Don’t let them walk all over you; the lack of structure will make them anxious and bossy because they need more order in their lives. They need to know you can stand up to them, in order to trust you are strong enough to protect them.

Regular schedules allow children to know what to expect, and they organize your day as well. A routine during morning, mealtime or bedtime (whichever they struggle with) can give them a sense of order and mastery over tasks, just as long as we teach them what it looks like first.

When we teach our kids the rules and skills to succeed, then they are less likely to commit misbehaviors and get in trouble. Many times we think punishment is enough to teach, but we need to make sure they clearly understand the rules before implementing them. The goal is not to catch them doing bad, but to guide them so they can thrive.

Be Fair.

As a parent, be sure your response matches the situation. Your rules and consequences need to be logical and fair. Overly harsh or lax responses to misbehaviors might make the situation worse.

When a government is not fair, there is a higher likelihood for the people to rebel. This is because people don’t feel their voices are being heard and think the leaders don’t understand them and their struggles. When there are rumblings of an unstable society (attitudes from a child) the leaders (parents in this case) become insecure and are in turn more likely to use harsher punishment to make their children listen. Some parents give up and think their child is hopeless, losing all their confidence as parents who have influence.

Do not put your kids in a position to rebel in the first place by being fair, which makes them nauturally want to respect and listen to you. We all know “high taxation without representation” does not work, either in government or in parenting, because inappropriate expectations make us seem unreasonable, distant, and undermines our authority. We need to give kids opportunities to communicate their needs and have a “voice” with us. Therefore, expecting them to always behave and get straight As, but not having the time to hear or understand when they are struggling causes them to be stuck.

Our demands actually put kids in the drivers’ seat of the relationship where they must perform and be on good behavior in order for the relationship to work. At some point they have to choose to either comply and live with rules they do not believe in, or risk their relationship with you, being the “bad child” (which no kid wants to be) to stand up to you.

When confrontation does not work, then they only have passive ways left to show their dismay. They fail and hurt themselves. You get dragged to the counselor’s office because they look depressed, refuse to do homework, hate what you cook, pretend to not hear you, come home late, punishing themselves to punish you.

Maybe they are just trying to get your attention, or better yet, your understanding, so they can get what they really need—your help, your unconditional love, and a fair set of rules and consequences to keep them on track.

Show Affection and Acceptance.

The only way to influence your child is to establish a good relationship as a foundation for everything you do. If your child likes you then they will listen to you.

Show your affection your way. Some parents like to give hugs and tell their kids they love them every day, others are more comfortable with a simple nod or smile. Either way, what is your way of communicating with your child that you accept them?  Is it time spent with them, providing for them, talking to them, giving hugs and praises, or all the above?

We’ve all heard about the infamous power of peer pressure, but it would not be so powerful if kids were getting reinforcements at home. Kids want to impress their friends and are pushed to do things (usually not so good things) to stay in their friends’ good graces.  But this pales in comparison to how much they want to impress you and make you proud, giving you the power to encourage them to reach their potential.

In general, kids need us to act more mature than they do, and to be the solution, not the problem. They will trust you once they know the rules and respect you for being fair and consistent. When you show them care, they will not only give it back to you, but also learn how to care for themselves, and one day care for others as well. Setting limits, being fair, and showing your unconditional love will make parenting easier. Your children will naturally want to follow you, be next to you and be just like you, recognizing you as a model and a leader.

Laura Yu

Laura Yu

Laura has a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of San Francisco. She has worked in community mental health settings with adults, children, and families using Cognitive-Behavioral and Family Systems perspectives. She grew up in Orange County and attended college in LA at USC. Since then she has been in the bay area for over 3 years, making her a huge Warriors, Niners, and Trojan Fan. FightOn!

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