Copyright Dr. Carol Renaud Gaffney
"I want to do it my way,!"
"Who's the boss around here, anyway?!"
"Now, dear, don't be so hard on him (or her).
After all, he's (she's) only a child!"
Familiar words? All too often parents and children
are caught in an age-old battle:
"Who should be in charge of what,
when, and how?"
Confused? You're not alone - many parents are
feeling inadequately prepared as they face the
changing needs of the family, parents and children.
In fact, I frequently hear, "I just don't
know what went wrong; what ever happened to the
good old days when a parent's word was law?"
It may be that the "good old" days-and
ways—would be great if the goals of parenting
were the "good old" goals. In fact a
recent Psychology Today article reviewed research
that investigated which traits parents-then and
now- most wanted their children to develop. The
parents of the 1920s showed a strong preference
for traits that emphasized conformity and obedience-to
the parents, school and church.
The parents of today prefer traits associated
with autonomy such as independence and tolerance.
As the desired outcome of parenting shifts, it
seems natural that the techniques we learned (yes,
we did learn some - remember your own parents?)
may also have to shift and be refined.
Perhaps you are in this situation, with words
and strategies that no longer seem to work and
an increasingly angry child. And perhaps you're
sharing this anger. Then read on. If you’re
not, read on anyway. The following ideas are just
some thoughts to consider as we raise our children.
They're food for thought and no one will be checking
to see if you actually make any changes. No one
will stop you from making any changes, either.
Independence is not rebellion.
Independence occurs when a child actually does
some thinking for herself and considers consequences
before she acts.
Rebellion takes no thinking at all. All a child
has to do is listen to what is asked and do the
opposite. This usually occurs with no regard for
consequences. Once a parent knows what kind of
child they're working with, problems can easily
decrease because the parent can get the child
to go right by asking her to go left. Still, the
parent ends up the one doing most of the thinking.
Thinking comes before independence
and develops through practice. If
a parent wants their child to be thinking by the
time he hits junior high, better hope he's had
plenty of practice during elementary school! Thinking,
unlike pimples, does not develop overnight. As
you may already know, the price of poor thinking
and rebellion goes way up in junior high. The
good news is that there are plenty of opportunities
to learn and to think before that because they'll
make so many mistakes and ...
Ever time a mistake is made or a problem occurs,
there's a new opportunity for thinking. And the
person who makes the mistake is the one who gets
to solve the problem.
Now this may sound strange to the parent who is
a great problem-solver and lectures on the way
it should have been done the first time around.
It may also feel odd to the parent who thinks
that every mistake should be followed by punishment
"that will be remembered for a long time
But think about it, even now our best thinking
goes along with the greatest mistakes for which
we've had to claim responsibility. Our task as
the knowing adult is to let the problem be solved
without the words "I told you sot" and
with a loving message of "Good luck!".
The role of the parents is one of
coaching for the child, not playing the game for
him. It may be hard for a loving
parent to say, "I hope you can work it out
with your teacher, let me know if you want to
talk about it," rather than "I’ll
be up at the school in the morning to set that
A loving parent can cheer from the sidelines as
the child takes that step toward maturity. The
parent can also be there to share in the pride
of success or help bear the pain of disappointment.
The child will play better knowing they aren't
paying the game alone-but it's not the parent's
game any longer.
Independence thrives on a strong self-concept.
All too often when something goes wrong there's
a winner and a loser. The apparent winner, usually
the powerful parent, often looks back with regret
and wonders how it could happen that his child
is so upset or angry. When the person with the
problem does the thinking, when the parent can
be the coach, when the child gets to play the
game- they can both be on the winning team.
Now that I've given you some things to consider,
let me add one last idea, an idea that every parent
can benefit from but all too often few even realize:
Independent children leave time for
parents to live adult lies of their own.