Being kind to your children: It’s not coddling!

Every few days, I go on Google and search for articles that attempt to offer positive parenting tips to other parents. I generally feel that the first rule of positive parenting is being kind to your children. Treat them like human beings lol (because they are). Every time I do, I am surprised by the number of people who interpret listening to their children, and speaking to  them in an understanding fashion as “coddling.”

An example

On one site, psychcentral.com, the author attempts to answer the question of how to deal with a child that doesn’t listen. The author’s advice includes being honest, reliable, accurate, listening to your child’s needs, and being informative. Much of the advice corresponds to what I’ve written in my articles about rewards and punishment. In general, my own philosophy, which is backed up by voluminous amounts of psychological research, is that children learn the skills they need to navigate the adult world much better when the relationships they have with their parents are respectful, consistent, and loving. Being kind to your children makes them kind people, and kind people are more likely to have positive friendships. And yet, one of the representative comments from her readers says,

“That’s a bunch of BS on the second to the last one WE ARE THE PARENTS they will do what we say, they have to respect us we are placed over them… Not the other way around!!!”

Another comment stated:

“Articles like these are what’s filling the world of entitled, lazy and disrespectful children that want instant gratification without putting in any work to earn anything in the first place.

Bravo! *eyeroll*”

There is a fundamental misunderstanding in this comment, which equates positive parenting strategies with “letting your child walk all over you.” Nothing can be further than the truth. Positive parenting is hard work, which requires consistent feedback, boundaries, and attention to detail. When my own children disappoint me, I don’t throw up my hands and yell, “I need help with my child’s behavior!” Or, “My 5 year old is driving me crazy!”

Discipline is an opportunity

Instead, I know that displeasing behavior is an opportunity for teaching my child why his behavior is not acceptable, what he can do instead when he is in a similar situation, and how he can please me next time. This doesn’t “give in” to my child’s intransigence. It doesn’t lead to disrespect, and it certainly doesn’t teach them that they can get instant gratification. In fact, there are very clear rules for what leads to positive results, and what leads to negative ones.

Strong-arm tactics may work in the short-term, but the research clearly shows that it doesn’t work in the long-term. Without conversation and information, punishment does nothing more than shut off a behavior right now. It doesn’t keep it from re-occurring. In fact, it seems that punishment alone encourages cheating. In other words, the child is not discouraged to stop the unwanted behavior, but instead thinks about why s/he got caught, and then is motivated to try to get away with the next time. How many of us can remember a time when we were punished for something, and then, within days, repeated the offense – this time, more cleverly? The punishment didn’t work, and many times this is because the rewards that you got for repeating the behavior were worth the possible consequences. If there’s anything that can create lazy, disrespectful children, it is getting away with behaviors when parents are not watching, and never learning the intrinsic rewards that come from acting properly.

According to an article about the Role of Parents, published by the American Psychological Association, “it matters how parents exercise their authority. Simple unqualified power assertion seems effective for immediate behavioral control but appears to undermine children’s progress toward becoming independently prosocial and self-regulating.In other words, although parents have great power…they had best use it sparingly or selectively.”

Being kind to your children influences their future
My son Jesse looking to the future

Positive parenting is more effective than harsh tactics

A positive relationship with your child, punishing undesirable behavior and then rewarding replacement behaviors, does not produce entitled children. It produces children who know how to get your praise and delight. This leads to character practices in the future that are far more conducive to success than the angry children that punishment alone helps to create. In fact, the research base is fairly clear that reinforcements are more effective than punishment, in terms of short-term compliance, and long-term adaptation skills that children need to learn – from you – in order to be successful adults.

Positive disciplinary interactions can help children understand how to interact with peers and superiors in ways that are respectful, communicative and admired. The information that a child receives through interactive discipline can help them navigate the world at large through the good times and the bad. If a child learns that their opinions and feelings are acceptably expressed, and that they have the power to mold their own futures (by pursuing known rewards and avoiding known punishments), then she will be a proactive seeker of happiness and self-efficacy when they are older.

Being kind to your children and setting firm boundaries are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they are mutually beneficial to your child’s well-being, and your own satisfaction with the parenting experience.

If you are at a loss about how to enact some of these strategies, or just need someone to listen to your frustrations and suggest a behavior plan that can apply positive parenting practices to your own children, email me at info@drjohnrich.com, and let’s set up a consultation. I look forward to hearing from my readers in the comments section. But please keep it nice! Lol.

Let me know your thoughts...