I grew up grateful that my parents were not excessively strict with us. They let some of our mistakes slide. Mom, for instance, didn’t always crack the whip when my sisters and I forgot the boiling milk on the fire till the raging flames had obliterated the last drop.
With a dampened heart, she would inspect the mess, letting her eyes linger on the sticky boiling pot and the wasted milk. Taking in the end result of her hard-earned money.
I imagined that at this point, streams of anger were building up into a destructive torrent, chocking her as she battled to suppress the rage. Moments later, much to our surprise, she would nonchalantly ask us to clean the mess and suggest that we may need to focus on one task at a time.
And then she would walk away leaving no casualties behind. I considered such incidents as miracles, subtle signs from God that He was on your side.
I had a friend, an only child whose mom seemed to be baying for her blood. Every mistake got punished, only the intensity differed.
Her mom’s wrath would especially be stirred if any of her mistakes meddled with the monthly budget. She grew up knowing the prices of most groceries by heart. Her mom always threw in the skyrocketing prices of groceries in her reprimands.
But that’s not the point (though it’s not entirely beside the point). Years later as I raise my two, I am wary about morphing into my friend’s mom. Memories of her freeze me in my tracks.
And while I love me some well-mannered tots, I also know that well-meaning parents can damage their children by disciplining them excessively.
Research shows that strict parenting breeds rebellious children with wrecked self-esteem to boot. How can parents achieve a healthy balance? How do we know when we are crossing the line?
It all boils down to our ability to uphold sobriety when dealing with our kids and to extend to them empathy. But first things first, if you are guilty of these five habits, then you are probably treading on the murky waters of strict parenting.
1.You Never Apologize to Your Kids
Apologizing to my daughter when I have misunderstood her is something I am weaning myself into. It is downright uncomfortable and unnatural for me; it throws my mommy settings into disarray.
Saying ‘I am sorry’ to the young chocolate skinned missy who was an infant the other day makes me a tad prickly. I don’t especially like the way she rolls her starry eyes and purses her lips after I have mumbled an apology, as if she were suppressing bouts of laughter.
As a parent, you will often be the one on the wrong. Perhaps the instructions you gave your teenage son regarding a certain task were hazy and he could therefore not produce your desired results. Perhaps you were awfully impatient with your preschooler as you prepared her for school.
The right thing to do is to send your ego to its room and apologize to your child. Besides, how else will your kids learn to apologize to others if they don’t learn it from you?
2.You Don’t Hear Your Kids Out
What’s your first reaction when your child is at fault? Do you interrogate them to find out what triggered their action or do you immediately flash out the discipline cards? It’s important to hear your child out.
Listening to your child allows you to unearth any underlying triggers for their misbehavior. Your child could, for instance, be hitting their sibling because they were bullied in school and the teacher brushed it off.
Or they could be getting into a hissy fit because they feel that you prefer their sibling over them. But you can’t unearth any of these reasons if you don’t interrogate them. Furthermore, listening to your kids communicates to them empathy and makes them feel secure.
3.You Do Not Allow Your Kids to Make Any Decisions
Do you like when other people push decisions down your throat all the time? I bet your answer is an earsplitting ‘No’. Our kids too, despite their ages, are enthused when we allow them the freedom to choose. As they grow up, their independence and sense of responsibility are blossoming.
Allow your kids to call the shots sometimes. Besides, some decisions are pretty frivolous, like which dress your toddler should wear to church, or which storybook your school-going child should read next. Go ahead and indulge your kids.
Allowing your kids to make choices also bolsters their confidence and self-esteem. You would want that in your kids, wouldn’t you?
4.You Do Not Have Family Values
Your family values should be the moral compass that steers your kids towards the right behavior. These values should be communicated to your children. Such values may, for instance, stipulate that respect, hard work, courtesy, compassion, and other virtues should be upheld by all members of the family.
Don’t allow your kids to grope in the dark, unsure of how they should behave. Having family values makes disciplining them easier since they are aware of what is expected of them. In the absence of family values, parents adopt a reactive rather than a proactive discipline strategy. This tends to be a sure ticket to excessive disciplining.
5.You Discipline Your Kids When You Are Angry
Maybe you get home from work in a huff, your shoulders hunched under the weight of missed targets and a grouchy boss. You are knackered to the bone. You seek solace in your room and just as you are trying to resuscitate your ego with a pep talk, your neighbor calls and reports that your son broke his car’s windscreen.
That call becomes the last straw that broke the camel’s back. You stomp out of your room and your son bears the wrath of your frustrations from work and every other pent up emotion.
Disciplining kids when you are seething with fury will more often than not find you going overboard. When at your wit’s end, step back, breathe in and out. Allow yourself to calm down first before speaking to your child.
The triumphs and flops that come with parenting are two sides of the same coin. There are good days laced with hugs, laughter and well-mannered kids. Then there are the tough days when it feels like you are climbing a mountain in oversized shoes on an awfully rainy day.
It is, however, important to remember that our kid’s worldview is shaped by our actions. Strict parenting and excessive disciplining make children feel afraid, oppressed and breeds resentment. Our actions as parents should always be infused with empathy and sobriety.