It seems contradictory, but there’s a balance to achieve when raising successful, confident children.
A few years back, I mentioned to a colleague that the most common mistake I see parents make is being too lenient with their children. They don’t set clear, firm boundaries. He looked at me sideways, a bit confused. He said that his experience is exactly the opposite. (He specializes in working with young adults that are really struggling, addictions and the like.) In his experience, he saw parents being far too strict, sometimes even abusive.
And as confusing as that may be, it actually makes perfect sense. What? How does that make sense? Hold on. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. But it’ll get better.
We live in a generation of information. Everyone has something to teach us, a new approach, a creative solution to age-old challenges. There are books, classes, online courses, a never-ending deluge of knowledge.
But so much of it seems contradictory.
The most important thing is love. Children have to feel loved, no matter what. Unconditional love is the key that unlocks all challenges. Be positive!
Children need healthy boundaries. Children need their parents to be parents, not to be another friend.
A home must be a place of warmth and acceptance, no matter what.
This generation is too weak. Nothing will come of anyone who is expected to produce nothing. We have to demand more of them, and bring out the best in them.
Anyone else getting dizzy?
Here’s the kicker: all of the above is true.
Good parenting is about balance. And balance is hard. Lean too far in one direction, and you fall. Lean too far in the other, you reach the same result.
In parenting we’re balancing the creation of a warm, loving, accepting home in which children feel valued and appreciated for who they are with healthy boundaries that keep children in line and help them develop the self-discipline that will allow them to accomplish in life. If rules are too strict or harsh, we can squash children, leaving them injured and/or rebellious. A lack of rules leads to a lack of self-discipline and often anxiety issues as well, never mind that children will often end up engaging in many unhealthy behaviors.
So what is the proper balance in parenting? How do we make sure that we’re infusing love and warmth while maintaining healthy boundaries?
By being the warmest, mushiest, most loving wall you’ve ever seen in your life.
I’m sorry? Come again?
Children don’t have opinions of their own. I know it seems that they do. And they certainly have preferences. Some like chocolate, others vanilla, some want to be outdoors running around and others would rather recline on the couch with a good book. But those are tastes, not opinions. The ability to consider, think something through, develop a personalized opinion, that only comes around the age of 10 give or take. Usually a bit later.
So when children give us an opinion, they’re really sharing what they’ve internalized from those around them, most likely their parents. This is true of their opinion on everything. Most importantly, this is true regarding their opinion of themselves.
Please follow this because it is critically important. A child’s view of himself is what he thinks his parents think about him. Not what his parents actually think about him, because he may be mistaken about that. It’s what he thinks his parents think about him. If a child thinks that his parents think he’s smart, he’ll (in all likelihood at least) believe that he’s smart. If he thinks that they view him as dumb, he’ll believe that he’s dumb. If he thinks they see him as creative, or funny, or ridiculous, or a pain in the elbow, that’s precisely what he’ll believe about himself.
When our home is a warm and loving environment our children are far more likely to be getting the message that they are desirable, lovable, inherently good and capable. A supportive environment (with healthy, open communication) is the one most likely to give our children the opportunity to voice their concerns and share their worries. That gives parents the opportunity to address those concerns and assuage their fears.
Would you want to live in a home with no walls? However beautiful the scenery around your home, most of us wouldn’t feel terribly comfortable going to bed at night if we didn’t have walls around us. Most of us wouldn’t even feel comfortable eating breakfast that way. Walls, or boundaries, create a sense of safety.
This is true not only of physical boundaries, but of emotional ones as well. While our home should be warm, loving, and supportive, the rules, whatever they are, should be immovable as the walls of your home. When our children can run roughshod over us they don’t feel safe. They don’t feel cared for. They don’t feel that we can take care of them. When it’s clear that we’re in charge and that the boundaries we set are non-negotiable, they know they can rely on us, that we’ll take care of them, that we’ll protect them.
So make sure your home is as warm, positive, and loving as you can make it. And make sure that there are rules that are clear, fair, and unbreakable. Balance that, and your kids will have everything they need.