I was scrolling through the many notes on my computer, trying desperately to find some technical information related to this web page. Suddenly, I came upon this note dated 1/11/17:
“Not so sure this author got it right. Equating typical parent comments with “control” and “obeying” (both considered negative by this author) is overlooking the essential element parents should provide their young children: boundaries. There are easy ways parents can do this through their communication with their children. Offering choices is one way. Avoiding open-ended questions that particularly young children can’t even begin to comprehend is another.”
Unfortunately, I either got distracted at the time or forgot to add information about who the author was and where I read the author’s comments. But clearly I felt strongly about the topic and wanted to develop it into a post at some point in the future. Finding this note now struck me as serendipity. Just yesterday, I got a phone call from a relative who was clearly upset about a neighbor friend’s experience.
I had talked with my relative’s friend just a month or so ago. She had stopped by with two of her three children for a neighborly visit with my relative, the same time I was there. In a short 15 minutes, I observed the children quickly becoming unruly. The 4-year-old son was particularly rowdy, climbing across the sofa and trying to fight with his older sister. His mother told him several times to stop, and he did not. She then moved him so that she was between him and his sister. At this point, the 4-year-old began hitting his mother. She told him to stop. He did not. She proceeded to ignore him and went on with her conversation with my relative. Shortly after, the children walked together to their home on the next block. Their mother asked my advice on what just happened, and I shared it. However, she needed to be on her way, and promised to come back the next day to finish the conversation. She did not.
Flash forward to my relative’s phone call to me yesterday. She had just attended church with the same neighbor friend, her husband and their children. The 4-year-old and his 8-year-old brother had gone off to Sunday school, holding hands. When the two returned to church after the sermon, they began making faces and fooling around with their older sister. When they wouldn’t stop, their mother then asked her daughter to move to a seat next to my relative. The daughter did not move and the mother did nothing more. After church, the Sunday school teacher told the neighbor that 4-year-old was hitting other children and would not stop when the caretaker asked him to.
Not surprisingly, when the children got in the car, their mother said to them: “I have had enough of you not listening to what I say, and disobeying.” She told her daughter that she would not be able to use her phone for texting that afternoon. She told the 4-year-old and 8-year-old that if they misbehaved next Sunday, they would have to attend church a second time. She would go with them and their father would go home. “I know next Sunday is your birthday,” she said to the youngest son, who then started crying. Their father said nothing.
Later that afternoon, she attended a lay church group focused on spiritual work. Their advice? You should not force your children to worship you. Only God deserves our worship. You should not let your pride get in the way. The neighbor texted my relative to explain this. My relative’s response: “This has nothing to do with pride. Parents are supposed to provide boundaries for their children, and positive discipline is part of setting boundaries.” The mother thanked her, and that was that.
My relative then called me, because as the godmother to the 4-year-old, she is concerned about his behavior. She’s also worried about the other children in the family and their mother’s guilt because she believes she is “forcing the children to ‘worship’ her.” My relative wanted to know if she should do something. I reassured her that she already had, in her response to the mother’s text.
At this point, I told her, the parents must, together, provide appropriate boundaries and expectations for their children. They must clearly communicate those boundaries and expectations to their children, not once, but often. They must do so well before opportunities for the children to disregard them. As well, the parents must calmly and thoughtfully communicate to their children concrete consequences when the children breach boundaries or defy expectations. Then, consequences must be immediate, consistent and appropriate to the child’s age. No waiting until next week, or limiting one child’s activity later in the day. And when the children meet or exceed expectations? That’s the time for both parents to verbally notice the occasion with joy and praise for the child and/or children.
Setting boundaries is an essential element of parenting. It is neither controlling nor punitive. It is definitely not forcing your children to worship you. Setting boundaries is, at its finest, providing your children with a rich and thorough understanding of how to behave in the crazy little world in which they’re growing up.