Monday, October 26, 2015

I Threaten My Children Too Much

I have to confess that I get nervous about parenting trends. I feel like every couple of decades the pendulum swings and a new way of raising children becomes popular. The problem is that we don't get any empirical data about the methods that are currently popular until decades later when children become adults. (Case in point: it was fascinating to read the background on Dr. Spock whose parenting philosophy was linked to the rebelliousness/permissiveness/activism of the sixties and seventies.)

We are now seeing that the helicopter parenting trend led to a generation of college students who hadn't developed the resilience they need to navigate the world in an optimal way. It's unclear what the long-term impact of attachment parenting will be.  

Despite my skepticism about parenting trends, I am constantly trying to figure out the right path for our family. I recently attended a parenting class at the Austin Children's Guidance Center about how to gain cooperation from our children. 

They started with an overview of parenting styles that really does resonate with me. It's about the spectrum from Authoritarian parenting on one side (demanding but not responsive) to Permissive Parenting on the other side (responsive but not demanding). Authoritative parenting is in the middle. It is both responsive and demanding. Here's how Wikipedia explains it:

Authoritative parenting is characterized by a child-centered approach that holds high expectations of maturity. Authoritative parents can understand how their children are feeling and teach them how to regulate their feelings. Even with high expectations of maturity, authoritative parents are usually forgiving of any possible shortcomings. [27] They often help their children to find appropriate outlets to solve problems. Authoritative parents encourage children to be independent but still place limits on their actions.[24] Extensive verbal give-and-take is not refused, and parents try to be warm and nurturing toward the child.[24] Authoritative parents are not usually as controlling as authoritarian parents, allowing the child to explore more freely, thus having them make their own decisions based upon their own reasoning. Often, authoritative parents produce children who are more independent and self-reliant.[28] An authoritative parenting style mainly results when there is high parental responsiveness and high parental demands.[29]

Authoritative parents will set clear standards for their children, monitor the limits that they set, and also allow children to develop autonomy. They also expect mature, independent, and age-appropriate behavior of children. Punishments for misbehavior are measured and consistent, not arbitrary or violent. Often behaviors are not punished but the natural consequences of the child's actions are explored and discussed -allowing the child to see that the behavior is inappropriate and not to be repeated, rather than not repeated to merely avoid adverse consequences.[24] Authoritative parents set limits and demand maturity. They also tend to give more positive encouragement at the right places. [30] However, when punishing a child, the parent will explain his or her motive for their punishment. Children are more likely to respond to authoritative parenting punishment because it is reasonable and fair[citation needed]. A child knows why they are being punished because an authoritative parent makes the reasons known. As a result, children of authoritative parents are more likely to be successful, well liked by those around them, generous and capable of self-determination.[31]

The struggle I have is how to uphold high expectations and limits without slipping over to the Authoritarian side. During the workshop, she listed all the ineffective strategies we use in order to obtain cooperation from children, such as threatening them. She then listed out strategies that are more effective in the long-term, such as giving more information about why something is not acceptable, offering choices, turning the situation into something more playful, etc.

I have to confess that the list of effective strategies felt really wishy-washy to me and it felt like I could easily work through the whole list of them without achieving cooperation and instead leave my children with the impression that I was pleading with them to make a good choice (which is something the presented said was bad). 

However, I gave the strategies a try this weekend. Tate was in his room banging on the window, and I approached it by giving him information: "Tate, if we bang on the windows, they could break and cut our hands. The glass could make our hands bleed." It stopped him for a second, but then he continued. Matt came in and clarified what was going on. Tate had dumped out all his legos and Matt had "threatened" him by saying, "If you don't pick up your legos, you aren't going to be able to eat pancakes with us." Then Matt tried to get cooperation in our typical way by saying, "Tate, you need to pick up your legos." Tate simply responded with "No!" I tried some of my new strategies: "Tate, we need to pick up the legos so that Danger [the pig] doesn't eat them. Do you need a little help to get started?" Matt and I then started picking up the legos. Tate still wasn't helping. Then I said, "Let's make it a game." I started singing, "Lego! Lego! Plop!" as I tossed it into the box. Tate then got excited and proceeded to sing the song and pick up all the legos. 

Afterwards, it felt like a win-win for our family. The task was completed (so the high expectation was upheld) and the mood was positive. 

As I write all of this out, there's still a part of me that thinks, "If I ask my child to do something that needs to be done, they should just do it." But then I think about how quickly that can turn into threats and a power struggle. It becomes me exerting my power over them, which essentially just teaches them that if they want to get someone else to do something in the world, they should exert power over them. 

So I'm going to give these new strategies a try. I'm going to ensure 100% cooperation (high-expectations) but try to get there through more positive, fun, and matter-of-fact ways. 

The other thing I want to do is sit down with Matt and clarify what our expectations are. I think we need to be 100% insistent about what kind of boundaries we set around the house. We try to set as few boundaries as possible, but when we do have them, we need to both be on the same page about enforcing them. I'm looking forward to it!

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Bex said...

I would be interested in how your conversation with Matt goes and his response to your ideas on how to enforce the boundaries (authoritarian vs authoratative). My husband is "old-school"/ authoratarian) based on how he was raised, while I tend to try more authoritative methods based on the vast amounts of reading I do and already this is a bone of contention between us. I would love to see how you handle it as a way of thinking about how my husband and I can handle it too.

Meaux said...

I struggle with being more authoritarian too. I told my husband this past week "He knows how to pick up his toys, why won't he just do it!" Thanks for sharing this. I'm going to send him this so we can start working on it.

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Bex! Matt and I are really similar. We tend to default to more authoritarian ways when we are tired, impatient, frustrated, etc., but we are committed to becoming more authoritative.

Does your husband believe that the way he was raised was the right way? It's natural to default to the parenting techniques that were used on us when we were children, but if you can help him see the benefits of another way, then he might be willing to work on breaking the cycle.

Good luck to you both!

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Meaux! One of the techniques that the parenting class talks about is finding a "listening partner" to talk to about all the things you are naturally inclined to say to children (i.e., all the authoritarian things you wish you wouldn't say). It can help you bite your tongue when you're actually talking with your children--knowing that you'll be able to vent your frustration to someone else later. Matt and I have only done it for two nights after the kids go to bed, but it's really helping!

Andrea said...

For evidence based parenting check out triplep (positive parenting) it's an Australian based program which has an online course. Well researched and has been found to help ordinary families and those at risk. My husband and I are about to start it as we need to be on the same page parenting our very delightful but very intense four year old.

Sara E. Cotner said...

Sounds interesting, Andrea! Thank you so much for sharing!

mamaschlick said...

The term authoritative is offensive to me. They should call it something else. Authoritative sounds like we have the power inherently over them and we exert it. As if we are the only authority--ie the one who clearly knows best and better. It feels invalidating to me. But my intent wasn't to complain about the term! I'm posting because if you haven't read Janet Landsbury's books or website you must go there immediately (I'm being authoritative)! Really, it is eye opening. I think she calls it confident leadership. Her techniques are hard but very very very effective and respectful for us. I think you will love her stuff! She also does a great job answering "why won't my kid just do what I tell him!?" and I think one of her posts even has that title! Let me know what you think!!

Kelsey said...

Thank you for sharing this! One thing I wanted to say is that I think the toddler years are just hard no matter what type of parenting you use and you will never get full compliance (and of course we shouldn't, children are testing and learning boundaries, etc.) An older post of yours inspired me to use the "You can pick up your toys or I'll help you do it." And then if they do not do something on their own to pick them up/otherwise gently involve them but don't just do it yourself. We use the phrase "honor my words, please" a lot which is also used at daycare and I really like the spirit behind it. But as with anything with toddlers, it is sometimes effective :)

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