Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states
“It was time to go home. Mom told her three year old son that they were going and to put his shoes on. He wanted to stay longer and started to melt into a tantrum. The mother, unruffled by the unfolding drama, asked the child if he wanted to leave now or in two minutes. When he chose two more minutes, she said ok. When the two minutes were over she told him it was time to leave. He started to complain when she asked him to put his shoes on. She responded by giving him a choice. He could walk home with his shoes on or without them on. He chose no shoes. Barefooted but with no more complaining, they went home.”
Depending on the type of parent you are there might have been one of three responses to the child. In response number one, you could have been the “drill sargeant ordering the child home with the angry statement, “When will you ever learn?” In response number two, you could be the “helicopter” parent who could have told the child she will carry him home when he does not put the shoes on so that he does not catch a cold or cut his feet on the ground. Of course, she would whine and complain to the other parents and to her husband. We saw response number three in the parent who gave the child choices. She is referred to as the “consultant parent” who gives the child choices within firm limits. She is also not afraid to let the child learn from the consequences of his decision. This three year old felt the cold on his feet on the way home. When the child started to complain the simply said, “Oh my, that must feel really bad.”
Jim Fay and Foster W. Cline have written a series of books on parenting with love and logic. In addition to the books that are written in clear and understandable steps, the also run workshops where parents learn to apply the techniques they use.
What is interesting about their approach to parenting is that they are not permissive or neglectful with reguard to children. Rather, they talk about responsible child rearing that sets limits and boundaries but that also allows the child to make decisions thereby building self confidence that will last throughout life. According to Fay and Cline parents need to teach their children the consequences of their actions. These are not consequences dole out by parents in a punitive way but are the real life consequences of decisions made. By starting very young with very small decisions, as with the parent who allowed her child to walk barefoot, children gradually learn to make bigger decisions as they grow and develop.
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Another example of a scenario that can happen is when a fourteen year old comes home crying that he left his bike unlocked and it was stolen. The father, not angry or judgmental says to his son, “That must feel terrible. It’s easy to make a mistake like that. Well, when you save up enough money you can buy another one to replace the one I bought you.” It is likely the boy will argue about this because he wants his father to buy the new bike. What Foster and Cline recommend is that the parent state and repeat, “I love you too much too much to argue.” For every complaint made by the boy the father repeats the same. In other words, he is not going to match wits with or engage in a debate with his son. The point is that responsibility is put on the youngster rather than the parent.
It is probably true that there was a time when the principle of “spare the rod and spoil the child” held sway in our culture. As the two authors discuss, times, economics and family situations have changed so vastly that it cannot work any longer. They also point out that the pressures our children are under are both different and greater than years past.
Our children are growing up during a communications explosion. Television, video games, videos, computers, the Internet, skype, the social networks on the internet, ipods, ipads and more have changed the environment for our children in ways none of us experienced when we were kids. At the same time, many kids feel pressure to join a gang, especially those who’s parents are never home or are latch key children who come home to an empty house after school. In school children no longer worry about having an old fashioned fist fight. Instead, kids, teachers and school administrators worry about guns. Indeed, stories burst into the headlines about another youth shooting fellow students and faculty during school.
Drugs and alcohol are available to youngsters as never before in history. One of the major causes of traffic fatalities among young people is drunk driving by underage kids.
The days when sex was an unknown and mysterious thing to children are long gone. It is estimated that by age 13 one fifth of four children have had sex.
The leading cause of death among young people is teenage suicide. Among the reasons for this are such things as intense pressure to perform in school academics and sports. For those young people who started with high expectations of themselves what they believe is their failure to achieve is more than they can tolerate and they commit suicide. Under the influence of drugs and alcohol a teenager is likely to feel depressed, impulsive and suicidal.
All of these are reasons why parenting is more important than ever before. As parents we need to listen to what our kids are telling us. We need to listen with empathy and not judgement or anger. Kids need our attention and time. They also need to feel like they are an integral part of the family. Even when teenagers are acting like they want more independence it is within the context of parental warmth, acceptance, empathy and love.
They also need what this approach emphasizes which is to help our kids learn to think for themselves. With the ability to think and make decisions, they have the strength to resist the many pressures and temptations that destroy the lives of so many young people.
I highly recommend the “love and logic” books by Fay and Cline. They are available for every age group from early childhood to the teen years.
Your comments, experiences and comments are welcome.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.
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