Because I said so!

Telling children to do something just because an adult says so is an authoritarian way to parent. It uses adults’ superior strength and power to overwhelm or intimidate children into obedience, submission and socialization to rules we enforce.

The alternative is what we call authoritative parenting. Parents are adults with experience, knowledge, thoughtfulness, support, and the intention to offer their children their best love, guidance and care. Their authentic authority comes from that base. But it isn’t easy – it takes the parental emotional muscles of persistence and sustained effort. And then it rewards us with good feelings of pleasure, mastery and growth throughout life.

Authoritative parenting includes acknowledging mistakes and imperfections and apologizing when wrong. Authoritative parents accept the reality of change and transform their relationship with their children over time while always retaining their identity as the parents.

Punishment stems from authoritarian parenting and mobilizes angry and frustrated parental needs to retaliate against children who make us feel helpless or like failures. Discipline, on the other hand, uses situations of conflict between parents and children to discover and teach alternative solutions. Children can then build on these experiences to do better the next time and parents can begin to trust their children’s capacity to make good choices.

Jared’s mom described how angry she got when her 4-year-old had a tantrum about a rained-out picnic in the park. Part of her wanted to spank him and another part of her wanted to comfort him and make up for the disappointment. She said she realized she just wanted to get rid of the bad feelings in both of them. Punishing Jared would get rid of her bad feelings, but would probably give him more.

Jared’s mom said that the next time it rained, she would tell him, “I’m disappointed too, but I’m not angry because no one is in charge of the rain. Instead, I’m going to figure out with you something else fun to do.”

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5 Responses to Because I said so!

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