My son spilled a whole glass of milk on the couch this morning. Again. This is maybe the second or third time that he has made the same mistake, and I have to admit, I was upset. O.K., I was more than upset, I was mad. So, I went to him and asked him calmly and respectfully to clean up his mess. Well…it might not have gone that smoothly. I think I actually had a panic attack. And you might have actually seen a nuclear mushroom cloud exploding over my head!
There is a lesson here for all parents: how you respond to your child during times of disappointment and stress is incredibly important. Your kids are going to disappoint you. Period. It is an inevitable part of being young. And when they do, our natural reaction will be to bark at them, “Why in the world did you do that?” or “You have to think before you do something!” The research shows that these kinds of aggressive responses are more than just annoying to your children. Over time, aggressive responses lead to mere compliance from children and ultimately to dependent adults. Translation: if you are overly focused on boundaries and neglect warmth in your attempt to provide discipline your children will probably struggle to be confident adults.
Now some of you are keenly aware of how damaging aggression from parents can be. You’ve lived it in your family of origin with your own parents. Individuals who are determined to avoid replicating painful criticism from parents typically end up being passive with their own kids. These individuals have no problem demonstrating warmth to children during times of disappointment and might shower them with love and attention on a consistent basis. But you probably struggle with drawing strong appropriate boundaries. The research indicates that parents who give their children warmth without strong boundaries typically produce adult children who are entitled and self-centered.
Obviously, you want to shoot for combining boundaries with warmth when you need to provide discipline or correction. This is a difficult goal, I know, but it is possible! Start by focusing on listening to your children, even when their behavior seems indescribably irrational. If you can listen to you kid, even when you are mad, upset, or disappointed, you are communicating to them that you value their perspective even if you don’t agree with it. Ironically, the more you listen to your child, the more they will have ears to hear you. And when your kid is willing to listen to you, your boundary setting will amount to a teachable moment. And isn’t that the goal of our discipline? To teach our children how to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again and to ultimately help them live a life of character and passion.