There are many reasons why parents either fail to set limits or choose not to maintain the standards they have set. In many cases, the decision to ‘let whatever happens, happen’ comes from an ineffective parenting theory that children raised in an open, free environment would be more fulfilled and better adjusted. Permissive parenting was touted as the way to raising well-rounded children. Research from the 1960s forward has proven that children raised in permissive homes are more likely to fail in life. Children feel very insecure and unsafe in a permissive environment and will become defiant or rebellious just to get some kind of a reaction from their parents.
A second scenario that many parents fall into is setting limits but not enforcing them. The most likely reason for this to happen is that the parents don’t want to face the conflict that a limit may impose on the child. As soon as the child begins to whine and complain, the parent buckles and gives in. The child who is raised in this situation tends to be self-centered and controlling.
We call them helicopter parents because they ‘hover’ over their children to make sure that they never have to face something difficult or harmful. Overprotective parents do everything within their power to make the world a safe and happy place for their offspring and they are convinced that this is the best thing they can do. Unfortunately, running daily interference creates a fragile, insecure child.
Children need to experience discomfort and disappointment if they are going to find confidence in their own abilities to solve problems. When parents sanitize all the challenges of life for their child, they effectually rob the child of his identity and sense of accomplishment. This results in a fragile child who never leaves your side.
It is true that an effective teaching tool is redundancy – tell them, then tell them again, then tell them again. Unfortunately, this is not a good technique in child rearing. Nagging, lecturing and yelling all roll off a child like water off a duck’s back. They are forms of negative reinforcement which means that they call attention to what you don’t what your child to do. More importantly, they are acts of "discipline" without any real consequences. A child comes to recognize that words cannot hurt her and that stiffer penalties are probably not forthcoming. She can weather the tirade and doesn't really have to change behaviors or attitudes. In fact, using these three tactics frequently results in your child nagging, lecturing and yelling right back.
This might seem like splitting hair, but there is a fine line between praising your child and praising the effort your child demonstrates. When a parent praises her child (“you’re such a good kid”) and forgets to mention the good behavior (taking out the garbage), the desirable behaviors are not enforced. Children need to hear what you are pleased with – whether it is an action (picking up the bedroom) or a personal trait (perseverance). Affirming the child without an explanation leads to a false sense of self and conceit (I'm good just because I'm good). Of course, a child also needs to hear that they are loved just because of who they are. Lots of "I love you"s and hugs should take care of that. However, to enforce good behaviors, attitudes and virtues, praise should be specific rather than general.
There is a real tendency to ‘put the hammer down’ when a child misbehaves. As one parent told me, “the bigger the stick – the smaller the problems.” Parenting experts say this simply isn’t true. The days of “spare the rod and spoil the child” have been found ineffective.
Children should never live in an atmosphere of anxiety and fear. When children do, they tend to become secretive, easily intimidated, anxious and ultimately revengeful. Rather, kids should understand that consequences are occasions for learning what is right and what isn’t. Thus, it is best for parents to work towards consequences that match the wrongdoing and can be delivered immediately, mildly and briefly.
“Don’t feel so bad – that was nothing.” “Get up and quit acting like a baby.” “I can’t believe you are upset over that.” These are all examples of denying a child’s emotions.
Parents need to understand that children are emotional. They will be upset or angry or frustrated. These are all normal human feelings and they need to be expressed if the child is to become emotionally mature. When well intentioned parents try to suppress or ignore these basic feelings, the child rarely learns how to name or deal with them. Instead of extinguishing the feeling, the sentiment is magnified – and that can result in more outbursts and instability.
It is better for parents to agree with the child - “that wasn’t nice,” “I’d be upset as well,” “We’re sorry you feel that way.” This encourages empathy and understanding which leads to better child well-being. Older children need to learn how to express their emotions properly, but this doesn't mean suppressing them. Encourage older children to express how they feel in appropriate ways. "I know you are really upset. Why don't you go calm down and then come back and we can talk about it?" is a much better response than, "There's no reason to be so upset!"
We often ask the question of parents, “Where would you rather your child go – to heaven or to Harvard?” The answer to this question can be very telling.
In the world today, many parents hound their offspring to maintain a steady focus on getting the best GPA possible. In doing so, the child senses that she can do whatever it takes to make the grade. Case in point; the rate of cheating in high school and college has sky rocketed in the past decade. And what is worse is that the students who are caught flatly deny that they have done anything wrong. In fact, many state that this is what they have to do to succeed.
Children who are taught to place the grade before honesty and hard work have underdeveloped creativity and overdeveloped narcissism. They tend to dismiss the process of learning as unimportant and become easily bored. In the long run, these children become impatient and frustrated with themselves and their life.
There is a growing body of evidence that parents view their children more as burdens than bundles of joy. The main focus of many parents is placed on the cost of raising their offspring and the time and work it takes to discipline. Everything part of parenting becomes a trial – “I have to do this or I have to do that.” This leads to a general attitude of work, drudgery and stress.
While it is true that parenting is not for the faint of heart, it was never meant to be totally depressing. Parents should understand that humor and laughter lighten the load and actually reduce much of the stress of child-rearing. When times are rough, a shared smile or laugh can smooth away the anxiety and actually work towards better health and happiness.
In an article in US News and World Report (June, 2008), entitled, "Good Parents, Bad Results," Nancy Shute points out that parenting theories and advice are limitless. Over the past 50+ years, parenting authorities like Spock, Brazelton, Dobson and Guarendi have studied children and the impact that their families have on their development. Shute reports that many popular parenting theories have done more harm than good. Dr. Dobson and Dr. Guarendi often say the same thing. Let’s take a look at what is ineffective and why it doesn’t work.