It might be helpful for parents reading this blog when considering their approaches to disciplining, to recognize there are two distinctly different roles we have as parents. The first one is to be the nurturer, to be the source of comfort and fun, to bathe, coddle and provide warmth that is both physical and emotional. For many parents, this involved, nurturing role is very comfortable and satisfying.
The Role of the Executive in Charge
The other role is that of being the executive and person in charge of the children. This is when a parent becomes the authority that says “Yes, no, maybe,” or “I need to think about that.” Authors like Mel Silberman, Jean Illsley Clarke, Becky Bailey and Dan Siegel each have their own ways of describing both the shift and the importance of assuming responsibility for providing safety and structure in the lives of growing children.
In her research-based book, The Six Stages of Parenthood, Ellen Galinsky describes how difficult transitioning from being the nurturer to the authority can be. This first occurs when a child transitions from being a baby to being a toddler who begins to explore his or her world and discovers his or her powers to demand and defy boundaries and rules. It is the child who forces the parent to assume that executive, in-charge authority role. And of course the child forces that shift in roles because he or she is experiencing the normal phases and stages of growth that are required of him or her in order to one day become a strong, healthy and self-disciplined adult.
An interesting awareness parent’s benefit from gaining is that children do not welcome the experience of boundaries or rules. This is where that confidence I have been describing in these last few blogs is of such importance, especially if it does not come naturally to a parent.
Cloud and Townsend in their excellent book, Boundaries with Kids, note that parents only need to say “no” one more time than their children insist on defying them. That will allow a parent to calmly set and then maintain boundaries and roles in an unemotional way that is as strong as a child’s attempts to undermine the parent’s authority. It will also help a parent hold their ground without punishing or shaming a child and yet remain immovable when something is nonnegotiable.
Disciplining effectively and finding one’s confidence to do so certainly has its challenges! It can be so much easier to be the nurturer than the disciplinarian. Unfortunately, sometimes we don’t get to choose not taking on this executive role that requires us to establish rules, set limits and maintain boundaries.
Invitation to reflect:
• How do you feel about having to transition from being a nurturer to also being the person in your child’s life who establishes roles, sets limits and maintains boundaries?
• What inner thoughts, beliefs and messages can help strengthen your resolve to be calm, clear and confident when disciplining?
Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network