Just DO what I tell you to do! Right now!
What parent hasn’t had that extremely frustrating moment with a child? (If you are one, just don’t tell anyone. You will not be very popular in parenting circles.)
“Just do it!” And, though we may not say it, we are thinking, “Do it this instant!”
Darn. I wish I could say that when we know the principles, we won’t respond in this way anymore. However, that wouldn’t be realistic.
We can talk about the principles that help us in these types of situations, though.
Let’s talk about force. When we are telling our child to “just do it,” and “you have no choice in the matter,” we are really using force to get them to do something.
Sometimes, actually, force is a good thing, believe it or not. However, force is obviously does not always create positive results!
It doesn’t make sense to say that parents should never use force -- because we have real children, and real children do not always obey positively, and they don’t naturally understand that there are real reasons we have rules. We know that parents who are totally permissive raise children who do not understand rules, boundaries, or understand how to care about others.
So - how do we decide what to do in certain situations, and whether or not we should use force?
First, know that there are two types of force.
There is protective force, which we use when we are responsible for keeping a child safe.
“Yes, Sarah, you have to be in by 10, or you will be grounded.”
We need to make sure that we protect Sarah from possible problems with peer influence, and we also need to protect Sarah’s health by insisting that we have a bedtime. We take control because we do not believe Sarah is ready to have the control, or to understand the impact of possible peer influence, or that she understands how important it is to get sleep to regulate her health.
“Daniel, get out of that street right now!”
The parent then grabs Daniel, and pulls him out of the street.
The parent will then insist that Daniel hold hands for the remainder of the time that they are walking, because Daniel needs to remember to stay out of the street. That’s force, but that’s protective force.
The second type of force is punitive force. When we use this type of force, we are establishing control, and not allowing for any other action to happen.
“You are grounded until you can come out and apologize.”
“You lied about that, and so no, you cannot go to the party.”
Using protective force is often necessary, but it helps us to be aware of the nature of its power. Protective force is helpful, especially if we understand the concept of roles. (See other posts about roles.) As a parent, my role is to help my children to be safe, and to develop a sense of boundaries, so protecting their safety is important. Knowing my role, i know how I need to act. I should not ignore behaviors if there is potential for danger.
Using punitive force, however, is trickier. It’s important to think about things and observe clearly before we apply punitive force. It’s very easy to think of the other person as being “bad” or “mean,” and not separate the fact that they are not their behavior. Punitive force is usually used when we are upset, when we are not clear ourselves, and when we are overwhelmed. It is usually not the best option -- although it can sometimes be helpful. It is rarely, however, the best reaction if we have not taken the time to think things through carefully.
Yes, we can ground a child, or tell him he cannot go to a party. However, that may not help the child to understand the reasons you are giving him a punishment. If the child does not understand, the only thing that has worked is force. When the child is no longer forced, the child will do the behavior again. We need to make sure there is understanding, so that we know there is a heart connection, in order to change behavior permanently.
Two questions can help us decide how to resolve situations with confidence. Maybe we will need to use some type of force. However, many times if we answer these questions, and think about them, we will decide that there are other alternatives instead of force that can help us resolve the situation.
What do I want this person to do that is different from what he is currently doing?
What do I want this person’s reasons to be for doing what I am asking?
Sometimes simply saying, “Would you be willing to stop yelling for two minutes, so that we can take that time to calmly think about the situation?” It’s surprising how my children will react positively to that. They are just screaming because they think they have to be heard, anyway. I will even look at my watch and make a point of noting the exact time for two minutes to be up. I have identified what I want them to stop doing, and what I’d like them to do instead.
We could also say, “Right now, I think you are feeling out of control. I am feeling that way too, quite frankly. I’d like to have the chance to explain what I’m thinking to you, and why I am asking you to do this. I can’t do that until you stop yelling or calling names, though.” You could even add, “We have an obvious disagreement here, and I’d like to address that by making sure that I understand your feelings and thoughts too. Would you be willing to talk to me about that without making assumptions as to what I’m feeling?”
Or we could say, “I’m disappointed that you lied just now, but I’d like to know what you are feeling, and why you said those things. We do have to address the lying, and most likely you will be grounded, but knowing that we could talk things through will go a long way to re-establishing trust and help us communicate.”
When we think about what we want their reasons to be for doing what we ask, we recognize that we need to find ways to establish meaningful communication, and to connect. We need to build our relationship with them. We need to talk about trust, and about the difference between blind obedience and obedience because we trust the person to act in our best interests. We need to have discussions about how they can build their character in ways that will allow us to trust them and know that they are mature enough to handle different situations. We need to have those discussions with our children, and we need to find ways to make our relationship one where those discussions are possible. We need to make sure they know that our goal is not to control and manipulate them, but to help them learn to govern themselves.
When our children trust our motives, and our desire for connection, we should rarely have to even think about using force. Isn’t that the true goal?