How to Respect Your Child Through Challenging Behavior (Without Becoming a Pushover)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Respecting our children is the heart of positive parenting, but how do you maintain that respect through challenging behavior? 

I received an email from a sweet mom asking how to deal with her child's sudden upset at baths. Her toddler developed a sudden aversion to bath time and would cry and fight to not get in the bath. Her husband wanted to force baths anyway, and it ended up being a huge power struggle in her home. 

Some might agree with the dad in this situation, saying that "giving in" would just let the child feel she was in charge. On the contrary, empathizing with your child's upset, however strange it may seem to you, shows her that she is important and that her feelings are acceptable and understood. It's respectful to her and important for your relationship that you truly look at baths from her point of view and understand that she has big feelings about it. However, she needs to be cleaned. I would suggest trying a few options. Perhaps she'd prefer a shower, or just being wiped off while standing in the tub, or even beside the tub. As long as she gets clean, mission accomplished. I assure you it won't give her the impression that she rules the roost, nor will it mean she will never bath again. Maybe she's afraid she'll go down the drain. Maybe she got water in her eyes last time and it stung. Try to understand her fear, find out where it came from, and help her work through that.  Eventually, this will pass. In the meantime, she'll know that her feelings are important.

Our culture is so caught up in control. Parents have to be in control! We're in charge! We're so afraid of raising the kind of child that our culture so openly disdains. Spoiled. Bratty. Disrespectful. Frankly, we're more worried about our own shame we'd face than about what our kids are feeling. We are a culture terrified of permissiveness. Alfie Kohn says, "The problem is not permissiveness, but our fear of permissiveness." I agree with Alfie. I certainly don't see much "permissiveness" where I live. Quite the contrary, in fact. However, when ditching the old paradigm of control and fear, it can be easy to fall into permissiveness, but don't be mistaken. Positive parenting is not about a lack of limits. It's not about not disciplining children. It's not about respecting them to the extreme degree that we never tell them "no." That isn't healthy for the child either.

Alfie also says this -  "The most popular false dichotomy in parenting runs as follows: "We need to take a hard line with kids and stop letting them do anything they feel like." In effect, traditional discipline is contrasted with permissiveness. Either I punish my child or else I let her "get away with" whatever she did. Either I take a hard line or I draw no line at all."

How often do I hear this?! If we don't draw a hard line, people think we draw no lines at all, and that is simply not true. If there is one thing that I wish people would understand about positive parenting is that, as a whole, we are not permissive parents! Sure, there are a few in the bunch, but they don't represent what we stand for as a whole.

But I digress. Back to the original question here. How do you respect your child without being a pushover? You empathize and stick to your limits. Dr. Laura Markham has written a host of fabulous articles on this subject. Respecting your child doesn't mean she always gets her way. That would, at times, be disrespectful to her if what she wants is dangerous or unhealthy! Rather, it means you take her feelings, her personhood, into regard when you interact with her. When you have to say no, you don't have to draw a hard line. You don't have to shout her down in order to assert yourself. Respect, by definition, means this: A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements. Even when you have to set your foot down, remember your deep admiration for her. When you have to say "no" to more candy or "can I stay up later pleeeease," or to that party he was invited to, remember your deep admiration; remember your love, and then come to him with your assertion, with your "no" from that place of love. "I understand that you really want more candy, but too much is not healthy. Would you like an apple instead?"

"I realize all your friends will be at that party. You must feel very disappointed that you cannot go."

Will they automatically accept your limit because you were nice about it? Maybe or maybe not. They may very well still be very upset with you, and that's okay. Be respectful in your interactions, even if they're not. They're watching your example.

The message I want to convey is that parenting has so little to do with punishments and so much to do with relationships. How well we attach and bond, how well we set boundaries, how well we listen, how well we love, that is what shapes us! For generations, parents have shaped "fine" but deeply restless human beings. We may know "how to act" but we're losing sight of how to love, how to bond, how to have healthy relationships. This is evident in our broken homes, the rise in depression and mental illness, suicide rates, and so forth. We have to teach them more than just "how to act." We have to teach them how to love, how to bond, how to deal with their emotions, how to have healthy relationships, and how to get out of relationships that aren't healthy. Our relationship with them is the one they will come to base all relationships on, so let's not base it on control and fear.
 "People grow close not through monitoring one another's behavior but by working together, talking together, celebrating together, weeping together. Relationships develop when people are there for each other - and that's as true for parents and children as it is for anyone else."- Sally Clarkson, The Mission of Motherhood
"Rules rarely keep us in line. Love does a much better job of keeping us moral." - Dr. Henry Cloud

1 comment

  1. This has been my phylosophy since I became a parent. To earn respect you must first give respect. I've found my way of thinking is few and far between and compared to other parents I seem easy on my children. I don't let them go crazy. I let them explore and be kids. They know I love and listen to them. My husband wants to be in control and I'm trying to get us on the same page.


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