Conventional Discipline Will Make You an Irrelevant Parent


You are more powerful than your child. There’s no disputing that fact (at least for now). Physically, you can have your way at any time. You’re more experientially and emotionally developed. The upper hand is yours.

The problem is that if you use your power, you sabotage your influence. They’re negatively correlated. The more power you use, the less influence you have. The more power you use, the more disconnected the relationship becomes.

I call this the Power Paradox and it’s precisely why you need to be a philosophical parent rather than a parrot parent.

A parrot parent is someone who parents on autopilot. They default to whatever strategies and tactics were used on them as children or they blindly copy the latest tactics they saw on Supernanny. They buy into mainstream or religious definitions of discipline and expectations of child behavior. They’re blindly parroting others, even if they insist they’re parenting deliberately.

A philosophical parent’s strategies and tactics are rooted in concrete principles and reason. Philosophical parents understand the five pillars of authentic leadership and behave accordingly. They know discipline means “to teach,” not “to punish.” They’re not perfect, by any means, but they always have the child’s best interest at heart.

What philosophical parenting produces is a parent that’s responsive rather than reactive. Responsiveness is the number one trait of an influential parent. As your children get older (and bigger), there’s only one thing you can hope to have: influence.

Spanking, time-out, yelling or raging, and the levying of punishments — conventional discipline — are all reactionary behaviors. Reactionary parents believe that acting this way is okay — even if they’re not necessarily proud of it — because it let’s the child “know who’s boss.” It’s a muscle-flexing, primitive, power-based display.

While it does communicate power, it also communicates that the parent is triggered and out of control, two states that are antithetical to influence. It also let’s children know that violence, isolation, and coercion are legitimate tactics when you’re upset or when you want your way, especially if the other person is smaller and weaker.

It’s also a sign that the child has gained a unique power over the parent. If your child’s behavior can trigger emotional outbursts in you, then the ship you’re both on is without a captain for the time being.

Lastly, it’s hypocritical. If your child is out of control and reacting emotionally and you respond in a manner that’s also out of control and filled with emotion, you’re putting yourself on the same level as them. Insisting you’re the source of influence when you’re in the same emotional state as a small child is a tough sell.

Remaining calm, showing respect, validating, thinking critically, connecting, teaching, and even negotiating are all responsive behaviors that communicate to the child that the parent is, in fact, in control of the situation.

The reason many parents struggle to be responsive, rather than reactive, is because they take the child’s behavior personally. If their four year old child hits them, they respond as if it was another adult who hit them. They immediately go into defense mode, lash out in anger, and levy punishments.

Parents also project future outcomes on the child, insisting that if they don’t squash this undesirable behavior their child will become uncontrollable, violent, or immoral. This irrational fear, which is driven by mainstream perspective, religion, and fear of failure, can cause parents to react harshly.

Taking things personally is a symptom of the parent’s wounded nature. Their own wounds blind them from seeing the situation for what it is: their four year old is extremely frustrated, probably for good reason, and has exhausted all other means of communication. It’s not personal and it’s not a sign of potential evil, it’s a behavior born out of incomplete emotional development.

A four year old child will never say, “Mom, I’m feeling very frustrated because you’ve been pushing me in this stroller for three hours and I’m hungry and tired. Truthfully, I feel like hitting you right now because you’re not meeting my needs, but I’m choosing to have this conversation with you instead.” Not in a million years.At some level, you know this. So, why do you take it personally when they communicate in the only way they’re capable of communicating?

It’s a given that children will act like children. The question is, how are you going to act as the parent? Being reactive is what children are. Being responsive is what parents should be. Only one of you has a choice.

It’s a given that children will act like children. The question is, how are you going to act as the parent? (tweet this)

Another way that parents take their child’s behavior personally is by believing that the child is capable because they’ve shown capability in the past. For example, a parent might say, “She’s just melting down because she’s being selfish. She can handle sharing that toy, she did it yesterday.”

Displaying emotional capability once does not mean that behavior can be repeated consistently, under all conditions. The willingness to share yesterday has nothing to do with the willingness to share today. Things change. Perhaps she’s more tired today, perhaps she’s tired of sharing according to your arbitrary expectations, or perhaps she’s hungry.

Adults, whose brains are fully developed, can’t even manage to behave consistently. So, why do we expect children to? And then we take it personally when they fail to be perfect? We call them names and dish out punishments? We assault them? We engage in screaming matches and power struggles? It’s silliness. And it’s destructive.

Influence is gained when you’re compassionate and consistent. When you have clear boundaries and limits that you deliver with warmth and respect. To do that, you must ditch the parrot parenting, empathize with your child’s lack of emotional development, and work on healing your own wounds so you can avoid trying to parent from a triggered state.

If you can accomplish this, you’ll also deeply strengthen your relationship with your children and meet all the long term goals you have for them. That’s what it means to be an authentic parent.

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