The CONTAINER in POWER and CONTROL,
“NEVER THE RIGHT SIZE!!”
CONTAINER -- BOUNDARIES AND LIMITS
my life, I've been listening... and waiting. I was never the right size... one
day I was too big... another day I was too little.
But now is the time finally. All my life, you have been telling me that
someday I was going to grow up and have to make... get
to make my own decisions. So here I
am ready to make my own decisions. And
I decide to... stop taking piano lessons...
spend $70 on a Princess Beanie Baby... drop Algebra...
watch another half-hour of television... buy that top... hang
out with Charlie... eat only organic food... get a second pierce in each of my
ears, and maybe one in my nose...
What!? I can't!? What do
you mean.... I can't?
You said... you said I could make my own decisions!
You said I could when I grow up! You lied to me! Make my
own decisions!? Make my own
decisions.... Yeah, right!
Make my own decisions... but not that
one! Not that way!
Next thing you know, it'll turn out you lied to me about Santa Claus too!
giving children power and control thing sounds good.
Letting them have choices sounds good. But some of the choices they make! How many pierces do you want!? Where!? Oh my!
We want children to be able to make choices -- good
choices. Many adults try to give their children more power and control and
choices. However, they often still find themselves drawn into power struggles
with the children. They know they need to be positively involved as their
children develop a sense of power and control in their lives-- that there is a
risk of a socially toxic ideal self and real self developing. From research and
literature about raising children and from intuition and
personal experiences, adults know that children need and want boundaries.
However, boundaries are more than what not to do, but also guidance in how to
-- DO'S AND DON'TS VS. SAFETY AND PREDICTABILITY
when we think of boundaries and limits, we tend to think of what children and
people cannot and should not do. This
is the "no", the "don't", the "stop it."
There are many things that children should not touch, should not do, and
need to stop (sometimes immediately because of imminent danger).
However, is important to remember that the setting of boundaries is not
only what should not be done, but also implicitly (ideally, expressed more
explicitly) that behaving and acting within these boundaries assure the child,
safety and nurturing, consistency and predictability… and the lack of
ambiguity and freedom from arbitrary treatment.
From this perspective, setting boundaries and limits is about creating
the container within which a child or a person or a community can flourish.
is within this container of boundaries and limits that the child or the person
can be freed and should be freed to exercise appropriate power and control -- to
make personal choices. Consequently,
in a sense(within certain limitations of respect and safety), it almost doesn't
matter how strict or how lenient the boundaries are or are not.
What matters is that the boundaries are consistent.
With consistent boundaries, the container is set clearly, and children
and people can function safely within the container of boundaries.
When there are inconsistent boundaries, the container is ambiguous and
dangerous, and children and people are never sure whether it is safe,
permissible, risky, or dangerous to do this or that.
CHILDREN MAKE THE "RIGHT" CHOICE
parents are consistent but in their urgency to make sure that children make the
"right" decisions, not only set the container of boundaries and limits
but also define exactly what can and cannot be done within
the container. Parents may
encourage, suggest, guide toward, "reason"....
intimidate, or threaten children to make the "proper" choice.
In other words, any other choice that is not what the parents want
becomes the wrong choice.
whatever you want. Oh, are you sure
that's what you want? Isn't this
one nice too? I don't think that
was as nice. What do you think?
Well....... Are you sure?
I really like this one. So,
that's the one you want? Uh huh....
Well, let's think about it for awhile. We'll
words are only part of the communication that directs the child to make
"appropriate" choice. There's
also all the nonverbal communications: the sighs, the frowns, rolling eyes, the
nods, various body postures, etc. And,
the omissions and the "forgotten" messages. Read between the lines.
Children may be young, but they are not stupid!
They figure out very quickly what pleases or displeases their parents,
and the consequences to pleasing or displeasing them. Parents can go to extreme
measures in order to have their child make the "right" choice.
And, they can do it in such coercive and subtle ways, that they can
maintain to the world and their child (and, especially, to themselves) that
their child made a free choice. After
which, they can claim that their child does have power and control -- choice, in
their lives. If this happens
throughout childhood, it can become insidious and emotionally and
psychologically damaging. Over and
over the child hears that he/she
has power and control -- choice in his/her life, yet he/she never feels in
control. They may begin to doubt their own sense of reality. The sense of
powerlessness and the reality of a lack of control may drive the child into
seeking other ways to take power and control.
Defying toilet training is but one way -- an early way to assert this
need. Eventually, children get
toilet trained. However, the sense of powerless and being out of control can
become lifelong issues. New techniques and methods are found to assert power and
control (including outright rebellion) -- some of which are developmentally
defined, and others that are utilized across the ages.
and control is such a fundamental issue that when it is lost from over strict
boundaries and no choices, that the illusion
of power and control becomes compellingly attractive.
Passive aggressive behavior often becomes the major way people gain a
sense of power and control in their lives.
Unfortunately, passive aggressive behavior does not gain true power and
control. Very few people
(especially children) just give up and acquiesce to being overpowered and over
controlled. If it is not safe to
overtly defy the person or persons who are dominating, people find other ways to
gain a sense of power and control.
this scenario sound familiar? Kirstie
has gotten hold of a permanent marking pen.
I need to get it from her before damage is done.
"Give me the pen please." "No, I want to draw."
Quickly I explain that it is not the kind of pen for kids to draw with, and
there are markers that she can use in the desk.
"No, but I want it!" Now I demand it and threaten her with
consequences, "You better give it to me right now, or you're in big
trouble." Now she has to give
it to me. Her option to keep the pen -- her power and control has been taken
away. But it is too dangerous to
defy daddy -- I'm bigger, and meaner! But Kirstie still wants to have power and
control. So what do she do? In her
little head, she intuitively thinks,
"I have to give it to Daddy.
So I give it to him. I will. Yep,
I will... but I will do it… slowly! Slowly.....
Very slowly.... As slowly as I can! If
he tells me to hurry up, I say in outraged self-righteous voice, 'Whaaat?!
I'm coming! Can't you wait?
What's your hurry?' I delay as much as I can.
If he gets upset, all the better -- it's working!
He threatens me again. Okay
okay... 'I'm coming. Geez, what's the rush?'
I imply with my tone and body language that there is something wrong with
Daddy for being so impatient. Finally, still going as slowly as I can get away
with, I hold the pen out to him... just slightly out of his reach!
get more and more aggravated -- whoever said patience is a virtue didn't have
children! I start to lose it and yell, "Give it to me now!"
I can't believe that I'm sounding more and more like that ogre I had
sworn never to be!
"'Here, take it,' I say as I keep it slightly out of Daddy's
kid is making me crazy! How come
she can't just put it in my hand? Why
do we have to go through all this? "Put it in my hand!", I scream, veins popping in my head.
I move the pen slightly closer to his hand and just as he is about to
grab it.... I... I...
I drop it on the floor! Hah!!
Yesss!! Yesss!! Gotcha!! Gotcha!! Gotcha!!
Ohhhh! Check out the
look on his face! Gotcha!! Gotcha!!
Gotcha!! If Daddy says 'Why did
you drop it?', I respond, 'Whaaat? I
didn't do nuthin'! You dropped it.
I can't help it if you drop it! Geez!'"
Aggravating mom, frustrating
Dad, stealing paper clips from office, coming in late to work, doing the
paperwork (sort of), taking your break... and then using the restroom, rolling
your eyes, a sigh, slumped posture in the chair, gossip, and insulting the boss
(behind his/her back) are all examples of passive
aggressive behavior. The common
elements to all of these actions are: first, they are all aggressive in seeking
to harm the other person, not physically, but emotionally or psychologically;
secondly; are overtly nonspecific -- there is not always an obvious overt target
(even though, it may be obvious to whom the actions are intended) -- they are
indirect; and third, can be claimed to
be nonaggressive but still serve to equalize (symbolically) the power and
control deficiency. Unfortunately,
none of these behaviors establish true
power and control -- just an illusion of power and control. And, worst of all, they take the place of behaviors that
could potentially gain true power and control in the person’s lives.
If passive aggressive behavior
becomes the main way (or only way) to gain power and control, then an
individual will never learn healthy ways to gain true power and control. He/she
"wins," but pays a profound price.
As much as the passive aggressive person claims to be not aggressive --
no matter how self-righteous he/she may sound, people soon begin to recognize
the attacks for what they are. People
soon begin to resent the passive aggressive person and began to covertly and
overtly punish the person for their behavior.
Passive aggressive people are pain!
Kids can become a pain! And, are treated as a pain. This will, of course,
cause the passive aggressive person to become even more self-righteous -- feel
even more wronged; and experience a greater loss of power and control, and as a
consequence lose more self-esteem. These
individuals complain bitterly to you about the injustices in their lives.
They complain so bitterly and so self-righteously, that you want to pull
out the party hats, noisemakers, and blowers to be properly dressed for the pity
party! Yet, you have no empathy or sympathy for them because their
passive aggressive behavior has been so annoying.
If your child does passive
aggressive behavior, you need to recognize is that he/she is trying to get power
and control in his/her life. The
motivation for power and control is appropriate, but the technique is
dysfunctional. This is learned behavior, after
his/her first overt choices for gaining power and control have been frustrated. And, you are probably somehow intimately involved in the
entire process. Children are
continually looking at ways to impact the world.
Understanding how they sometimes choose to have a negative impact on the
world gives us guidance on how to direct them toward having constructive impact
on the world. Some of the basic
mechanisms of the child's learning process
developmentally and the dynamics of "explore and experiment" are
important to examine.
12: IMPACT in POWER and CONTROL
UH... NO WAY! WHAT?...THAT'S
do you want for lunch? How about a
peanut butter and jelly sandwich?
No, I hate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!
about a tuna fish sandwich?
I hate tuna fish! You
know I hate tuna fish!
today you don't like tuna fish) Well,
what do you want for lunch?
I don't know.
about some soup? (Oh heck, here we go.....
don't want soup.
want me to make some macaroni and cheese?
You know I'm sick
of macaroni and cheese!
pressure is on. Gotta come up with something else. Or else...) Uh....
How about some cheese and crackers?
think...) How about some instant noodles?
You know how much MSG is in those things!?
You trying to kill me!?
my. Gotta come up with something
else... gotta come up with something else....) how about...?
No Way! What?...That's Stupid!
I Hate This! I Hate You!
But..... Make me
another offer anyway so I can reject it
have often watched children and teenagers manipulate adults into trying to
satisfy their negativity. Typically,
the adults suggest a particular solution or option to the child.
And another one, and another one, and another one -- on and on. So.... so
that my loving child can reject it too. So
that my loving child can spit on it too! Such
pressure! Such futility! Where does
the vulnerability to this tactic come from? It's as if the child is saying
"Please me or else. Please me
or else I will reject you. And,
since you can't please me, I reject you."
Here you see frantic adults trying their hardest to come up with another
offer just to be abused over and over. The
anger and disdain that comes from the child hits the adult over and over as
offer after offer its rejected. Why
is he/she being so negative? By can't he/she be positive?
By being negative -- by rejecting offer after offer, the child is in
control and has power over his/her parent.
By saying no once, his/her parent has to come up with another offer to
try to please him/her. By say no again, the parent comes back again.
By say no again and again, the child able to move the parent emotionally
back and forth -- from hope to despair, from calm to anxiety, from love....
to anger and resentment. Power
and control! But what a lousy way
to get power and control! However,
if it was the only way that was available to you and if it was the way that was taught
to you, then it is the way to have
children and some adults are highly and overtly aggressive and in a distinctly
negative fashion. These are
children and people who have learned that power and control in their lives comes
from being negative. Due to
the circumstances of their lives (for children, primarily the families), they
have learned that they have no positive means of gaining power and control.
The only way they have been able to get any power and control in their
lives is from being negative. Such
people can become the adults are so critical, and who are always so ready to
tell you why something will not work -- and why you are so stupid to even try!
They reek of negativity. They
are the people that rain on your parade. These
other individuals who attack your dreams, stomp on your optimism, and discourage
you from trying.... supposedly to
be "supportive," "practical," "realistic," or
"out of love to keep you from being disappointed." While Eyeore in
Winnie the Pooh is very endearing with his gloomy outlook, without his heart of
gold he would be very aggravating too. The negative people that we are talking
of do not have hearts of gold- but bitter resentful hearts.
can start very innocently. Piaget describes the earliest stage of the child's
life as the sensory motor stage. In
the sensory motor stage, children experience the world through their senses and
their physical interactions with it. They
look, they see, they smell, and they feel with every part of their bodies --
including some parts you don't expect! Through
this interaction with the world, their brains and their entire beings are
developed. The core to the process
is exploration and experimentation. Remember
when your baby gazed into your face... scanning it over and over with those wide
soulful eyes. It seemed as if the
baby with trying to find every nook and cranny, every wrinkle, every hair... the
essence of you. This is
exploration. And when the baby held
the rattle, stuck it in his/her mouth, rubbed it on his/her face, and banged it
on the crib. This is exploration.
throw the rattle out of the crib. Someone
picks it up and puts it back in the crib. That's daddy's face.
Smile. Hi daddy. That was interesting. And I throw the rattle out of
the crib again. He picks it up
again and puts back in the crib again. Smile.
Hi daddy. Hmmm? Interesting. And I throw it out again. Here it comes back again... and again... and again, because
this is really interesting, so I do throw it again... and again... and again!
Hey, I just learned something about the world.
I just found out a way to have some power and control in my world as
little as I am. I've learned that..... I throw and daddy fetches!
Good daddy! I think I saw
daddy do this with a stick and the doggie.
Good doggie! Cool!"
is experimentation. If these kinds
of experiments are reinforced appropriately, then children learn how to have
impact on the world in either positive or negative ways.
How does something so innocent (and familiar) evolve into something as
negative as the "what is for lunch" battle? The child is experiencing
that he/she has impact. The degree and quality of impact will vary depending on
the developmental level of the child, experience, and skills... and on their
parents’ skills. In other words,
you can affect is learned from these experiments.
CRASH! -- IMPACT ON THE WORLD
you remember when your baby was too small to stack blocks up but delighted in
knocking down the blocks you had set up? Developmentally
he/she was unable to do things, make things, build or create things.
In a sense, he/she was unable to exercise creative energy like a more
adept older child. However, every
child wishes to have impact -- to have power and control in his/her world.
Unable to have positive impact -- to have creative impact, many children
choose to have impact on the world anyway.
They may choose to have negative impact -- destructive impact on the
world in lieu of the positive creative impact they can achieve with greater
maturity. Stack the blocks, Mommy.
I can't do that. But I can
knock those blocks down! And spill
the bowl! And scare the cat!....
Graffiti the wall! Put down the idea! Discourage
the visionary! Little kids often
delight in destroying things, but this does not mean that they will turn into
negative or sociopathic teenagers and adults.
People normally prefer to have positive impact -- to be constructive
rather than destructive. Only if they can not have constructive impact do people
normally turn to destructive assertions of worth and power and control.
Prisoners are faced with such a dilemma.
In prison, if they behave -- i.e. are positive, they are ignored.
In being ignored there's no confirmation of their basic worth or even of
their basic existence. On the other
hand, if they misbehave (are destructive), they are punished -- sometimes quite
severely. So what do they do? The
need to have a sense of worth -- to have power and control in the world is so
profound that prisoners will misbehave (and get punished) in order to draw
confirmation of their existence. Adults
often hypothesize that the underlying source for a child's acting out behavior
is a need for attention. Ironically,
after making this correct assessment, adults respond by ignoring the child!
Ignoring the child continues to confirm the child as not counting and not
having worth. This tends to drive
the child either into more severe acting out or into intense anger or
often do you set up opportunities for your child to have a sense of power and
control? To have choices?
How often do you help your children recognize when they have exercised
power and control -- that they have made choices?
It may be as simple as saying, "Look, you knocked down all those
blocks!" or, "You put all the blocks in the basket!" In other words, from your actions and your decisions, you
have had impact on the world. It is
normal for very young children to have physical challenges (fine motor and gross
motor) in creating and making constructive impact on the world.
This is the underlying issue in developmentally appropriate practices in
a child's and a person's development (as it is applied not only to physical
challenges but also to cognitive, social, emotional, and psychological
challenges and task). Developmentally appropriate practices assert that people can
function successfully within a range of functioning/skills according to their
natural maturation. Asking or
pushing children to function outside of their developmentally appropriate stages
risks overwhelming stress and harm to Self-Esteem.
For example, expecting a three-year-old to read fluently, a two-year old
to be toilet trained, most eight-year-olds to stop their play and put themselves
to bed at 7 p.m., most 10 year olds to understand that the principle of being a
good friend includes sometimes not going along with your friend, many
adolescents that respect also means giving respect even if you feel
disrespected, and so forth may be outside the developmental ability of the
person. Unfortunately, many adults
ask children inadvertently to function at higher levels of developmental ability
than is realistic. When this
happens, children experience a lot of stress and a lot of failure.
If the failure continues and accumulates, children may turn to negative
ways to experience success.
PAINT FIRST... POT?... HARVARD LATER
simplistic as it sounds, this is why you give children finger paint before you
give them pencils; large paper without lines before coloring books; scooters
before tricycles before a bike with training wheels before a bike without
training wheels; have been do chores like putting their clothes in the hamper
before folding their clothes before washing their clothes; cook Eggo waffles
before frying scrambled eggs before planning and cooking Sunday dinner; choose
what T-shirt to wear before choosing between soccer and baseball before choosing
biology or physics before choosing Stanford or Harvard!; choosing how to be a
good friend, before choosing what a good friend needs to be to you before
choosing whether or not to smoke the pot or drink the beer your friend offers.
As your children finger paint, scoot along, put their clothes in the hamper,
heat the waffles, and so forth... and you give feedback that the finger paint
picture is wonderful, the scooting is fast, good job with the clothes, the
waffles are delicious,... that it was a good choice about your friend and so
forth, success and confirmation direct your children toward affirmative and
constructive creative ways to have impact on their world.
you direct your children, however are you also frustrating your child's attempts
at power and control (What? More complications? Why can't it just be simple?
Because it isn't! If it were
simple, you wouldn't be reading this!)? One way to frustrate your child is to
make sure he/she makes the "right" choice. If you truly wish to give your child the experience of making
choices, then you also need to give him/her the experience and consequences of
making poor choices! Can you stand
letting your child make poor choices and suffering the consequences? Lions and
tigers and bears and poor choices... oh my! Let
children take the consequences of good and poor choices as learning experiences.
13: CONSEQUENCES in POWER and CONTROL, “THAT’S
I have it? Uh huh....
Okay... I know... Uh huh, I know I won't have any money left.
Can I have it? Please...
please... pretty please.... I won't
ask for anything else. I'll be
good. Please, I don't care that I won't have anything later.
I won't ask. Please... (Okay,
I'll get for you.) Thank you thank you
thank you! I won't ask you for anything else... ever.
I'll be so good. I don't care about anything else. I won't ask for anything ever ever again. You won't be sorry!
Thank you thank you thank you! (Okay. I
set the limits, I offered the choices, and I made clear the consequences.
That's how to parent!)
to next week.
Ooooh! It's so neat!
Kim has one. I want it. Buy it for me....(No.) What?! (You spent all
your money last week at the fair.) Last
week? At the fair?
But I want one! I need one! Everyone
has one! I'll be good. Please...
please... pretty please.... I won't
ask for anything else. I'll clean
my room. I'll practice my piano.
Please. I have to have one. Please, I'll be good....
No!? Kim's mom always gets her things. Ben's dad buys him stuff. That's not fair!
Please!? I'll be the only
kid who doesn't have one.... I HATE you!
I hate you! You never
get me anything! You always get things for Johnny! That's
not fair! You like Johnny better!
I hate you! I hate
you!......... (Oh no! Here
they come.... tears, sulking, the silent treatment, screaming, tantrums....
a multitude of possible combinations to punish me.
My baby hates me! My baby
wants to trade me in for a new parent! Oh, the pain!
How could I be so mean? My
baby hates me! People are looking
at me... how embarrassing! They
must think I'm a monster! It's just
money. What is
the big deal? Well....
just this time.)
you! Thank you!
You're the best mommy (or daddy)
Thank you thank you thank you! I won't ask you for anything else ever.
I'll be so good. I don't care about anything else. I won't ask for anything ever ever again. You won't be sorry!
Thank you thank you thank you!
you enjoy the glow of appreciation and relish in your child's joy, a little
voice says, "Won't be sorry, huh? Yeah, right!
If this is so great, how come you feel that you just sold your
soul?" And that there will be
a time (many times) you will pay the price. Your kid just made a bad choice and
you just made a worse one.
CHOICE --> POSITIVE CONSEQUENCE; NEGATIVE CHOICE --> NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCE
need to experience the consequences of their choices.
If they make a positive choice, then experiencing positive consequences
will help them learn positive principles of life.
However, it is when we make poor choices and suffer negative consequences, that we usually learn the most.
If we prevent children from making poor choices, we actually block them
from profound learning experiences. Of
course, there are some poor choices that we want to preclude.
However, it is said that a wise person learns from the mistakes of
others; the average person learns from his/her own; and the fool does not learn
despite continued mistakes. The wisdom that we seek to give our children usually
comes from our mistakes -- mistakes that we made while ignoring wisdom being
offered to us!
there is a mismatch between verbal and nonverbal communication, the nonverbal is
trusted; and the verbal is dismissed as a lie or a deception. Parents might warn
their children not to spend all the money or else they won't get something else
later. However, since most children are
focused on the here and now, they will often choose what is exciting
right now. Later on when there
isn't enough money, they would be so sad....
so pathetic.... so whiny!
Many parents cannot endure this and feel compelled to save them, and give
them money to buy the new toy. Unfortunately,
then the negative choice of spending all their money results in no
negative consequence. Parents might say "Didn't I tell you?," and
otherwise verbally point out the negative consequence (blah blah blah blah). If
they pay for the toy anyway, the nonverbal communication (the action) is deemed
to be the true communication. Arguably, the
negative choice still results in positive consequences -- they got a toy
before and another one now! (And
the parents are little more broke!).
the longest time, it seemed that my kids spelled both mom and dad,
"ATM!" We'd want to
please them and buy them things. However, when we didn't, then too easily we became the bad
guys. As much as we gave them
guidance about what was appropriate and inappropriate spending, they were
children. What is essential and
what is desired -- it's all the same to them!
Parents often spend far too much to keep children happy (actually to
maintain their self-images as wonderful giving parents).
As a consequence, children begin to feel a sense of entitlement. My wife
and I decided to put our girls on a monthly budget for not only fun things but
for their essentials as well: their clothes ($30 jeans! $20 tops! $130 shoes!),
cosmetics, music CD's, etc.... in other words, just about everything except
medical, athletic, and school needs.
each got a $100 a month budget (more or less depending on your specific
situation). We couldn't and didn't
anticipate everything, so we had to make some adjustments along the way.
They could spend the budget in almost any way they wanted, but would get
nothing more if they ran out of money (younger kids -- shorter time period? more
limitations?). Any unspent money
would be credited to the next month’s budget. However, they could not borrow
against next month's budget! (Don’t
want to start that credit card mentality already!!) Want to go to a movie?
Check your budget. Need a present for a birthday party? Check your budget. Like
that ring? Check your budget.
Need a new winter jacket? Check...
and manage your budget... for the next three months!
We kept a record so that we always knew how much... or how little money
they had in their budgets. They
could ask for the money as needed or have it deducted from their account as we
bought things for them.
warned both of them to be careful with the money and not to spend it all early
in the month. They said they
understood. The first week, they
both bought some clothes for school. The next weekend, Kirstie saw the cutest
Beanie Babies! Three cute Beanie
Babies! Three cute retired Beanie Babies! We
warned her that buying them would wipe out her budget for the entire month.
Against our recommendations... despite us trying to get her to make the right
choice, Kirstie bought the Beanie Babies. And
despite the potential negative consequences, we let her.
Kirstie was delighted with her Beanie Babies... for one and half weeks.
Then she realized that Friday would be the first middle school dance... the
first ever for her. And it cost four dollars.
She asked us for the money. We
told her "Check your budget." Her
eyes grew wide, "But I don't have any money left!"
We'd replied, "Oh well." We
did not have to be angry at Kirstie. Since
the budget plan was a self regulating process, whatever decisions Kirstie made
would naturally bring consequences-- both positive and negative.
We were disappointed rather than angry.
Our anger would have distracted
her from making the connection between her choice and the consequences.
Anger would have focused her on us (Mommy and Daddy being mad at her and/or what
meanies we were!) rather than the consequences. We wanted her to experience both
success with good choices and disappointment
with bad choices.
OPPORTUNITY VS. PUNISHMENT OPPORTUNITY
consequence was staring Kirstie in the face from a choice that she had been
counseled against. Should we let Kirstie experience the consequences of a poor
decision, or save her and probably defeat the entire learning process. Up until
this point, all our parental advice about future consequences was only half
heard. The most important issue
here was that Kirstie learn and understand the principles about making good
decisions --not a specific commandment to do this or to do that.
. This was a learning
opportunity as opposed to a punishment
opportunity. We decided to let her borrow money against the next month's
budget as a one time only exception because she was learning the budget
and the budget rules. However, she
would never be allowed to borrow against the next month budget again.
This was not a threat -- it was a certainty! Avoid threatening children; a threat is a manipulation to
make a child do something. Make a
promise of consequences that will happen. We were, admittedly, taking a chance
that she would learn from this break, rather than just take advantage of it.
times when you explain something to children, it seems that they do understand.
However, the full implications are often beyond them-- often beyond their
experiences. We were not interested in punishing Kirstie for not understanding
completely. We were willing for her to take the consequences once she had
a real chance to understand. Sometimes
it is impossible for a person to understand until after they have had the experiences (remember, only the wise learn
from other people's mistakes!). We
could have let her miss the dance
(and be meanie parents!). However,
the lesson about choices and future consequences, not going to the dance or not,
was the issue. So we sent her off
to enjoy the dance with her friends... and hoped that the lesson was learned.
If it wasn't learned... oh my! Some
people can learn when consequences are staring them in the face.
Others when consequences hit them in the face!
For some, only after being hit several times!
And, unfortunately, some never learn.
couple of weeks afterwards, she said she needed a new outfit for the school's
winter concert. We told her to
manage her budget over the next three months to make sure that she would have
enough money. No extra money from
us -- she had used up all her slack. Initially
upset, she eventually accepted this and began to make financial plans.
She was very pleased about the outfit she ended up with -- and even more
pleased that she still had money afterwards!
We were all fortunate that Kirstie only had to face but not experience
negative consequences in order to learn. It
would have broken our hearts to see her suffer, but we would have allowed it. There have been other times when we did.
Those times are never easy, but they are critical to helping developing
an appropriate sense of power and control and high Self-Esteem.
choices and negative consequences... as parents, we need to let them happen. The
easy part is in making sure that children get positive consequences for making
positive choices. Rewarding
children and doing things that please them (even spoil them....
a little!) fulfills us as loving parents. However, it is also the hard parts that make up good
parenting. One of the most
difficult things to do as a parent is to deal with children’s negativity.
The next chapter will look at how a parent handled her child’s
negativity and turned it into a constructive life lesson.
in POWER and CONTROL, MAKE
ME AN OFFER I CAN'T REFUSE!
Uh.... I've been doing all my chores and I'm doing well at school. Uh…
Can I go to a concert with Barbara, Patti, and Janet on Saturday? Barbara's mom
said she’d drive us, if it's okay with you.
It's from 2 to 6 p.m. Can I
go, please? I haven't gone out in a long time.
have birthday money and some baby sitting money for my ticket.
Barbara's, Patti's, and Janet's parents already said they could go.
I need to tell Barbara tomorrow so her Mom can buy the tickets. Where? At the
Uh... the... a band. Can I
go? Please, please, I'll be good.
You know Barbara and Patti and Janet… they’re even more goody goody than me!
You can trust me-- us.
late to get good seats? No… they
have stadium seating... we can sit anywhere we want. We can even move up closer during the concert.
You kinda have to push and shove, but that's part of the fun! Can I go?
the band? Uh...ummm... the…
Beastie Boys. Can I go?
Please? (What!? The Beastie
TRUST, BETRAYAL, RESPECT -- BUT... THE BEASTIE BOYS!
said that she could make choices when she was older.
And, you did say that you trusted her.
But... the Beastie Boys!
Her daughter was 15 and physically mature (with the curves of a young
woman! Oh my!) wanted to go to a Beastie Boys concert!
Oh my! Mom was caught in a
dilemma. She wanted to respect her
daughter's need to be a more independent teenager.
On the other hand, as Mom she was terrified!
If she said no (which all her instincts said.... after all, this wasn't
Sesame Street Live.... it was the
Beastie Boys! the... Beastie... Boys!),
she knew her daughter would feel that she didn't trust her.
She did trust her daughter, it was everybody and everything else that she
didn't trust! For years she had
been telling her daughter that she needed to be responsible and make decisions.
It felt hypocritical to say then say, “But... but... not that
decision!" While some parents feel that they did not have to explain
themselves, she had always felt that explaining things was respectful. She did not want to betray this or betray being the kind of
mother she wanted to be.
if she said yes, her daughter would be at a Beastie Boys concert!
With three friends and 12,000 strangers!
With stadium seating! (Stadium
seating is no assigned seating. Your child would be one among 12,000.
Even if you wanted to find him/her, it would be like looking for a needle
in a haystack.... a haystack of
Beastie Boys, oh my!). She knew her
daughter had no intention of doing anything inappropriate.
She was going with friends -- good responsible friends.
Saying no would imply all the responsibility speeches and the promises of
greater independence and trust for 15 years were but a bunch of elaborate lies.
The last thing she wanted to do was to betray her daughter.
She desperately wanted to be able to say yes to her daughter.
But... the Beastie Boys!
counseled her how to say yes in a particular manner.
She told her daughter, "I know that you really want to go to the
concert. I also trust you and your friends to be responsible.
I've raised you to be independent and to make good choices.
So, the answer is 'yes.' However,
I cannot just stop being your mother and worrying about you." Her daughter
interrupted, "Oh Mom, you don't need to worry about me.” When she insisted that she couldn't stop worrying, her
daughter snapped, "That's your problem.
Just don't worry."
was ready for this and responded strongly, "Even though it scares me, I'm
trying hard to let you be the teenager you need to be by being willing to let
you go. Don't you tell me not to be
the mother that I am! Being your
mother means that I care for you and love you....
And I worry about you. Don't
you tell me that I can't be the mother that I am, especially when I'm trying to
let you be the teenager that you are!"
The mother told me later, that her daughter was quite shocked -- but
positively. Being allowed to be who
she needed to be also meant allowing her mother to be who she needed to be. Asserting
power and control also means giving appropriate power and control.
Reciprocal social responsibility -- what an amazing concept!
ME AN OFFER I CAN'T REFUSE!
continued, "The answer is 'yes', you can go.... if you can make me an
offer, so that I can feel comfortable enough to let you go."
"Oh mom, you don't have to worry!"
"I told you already, worrying is what mothers do.
Don't tell me I can't be your mother.
The answer is ' yes'. Make
me an offer that works for me."
daughter was perplexed. She was
used to being negative and having her parents make offers until she
was satisfied. Now, she had to come
up with the offer! "Why should
I have to satisfy you?” Mom
responded, "Okay, if you don't want to come up with something, then the
answer changes to ' no'. If you
can't come up with something, you can't go.
If you can, then you can."
daughter held out a little longer, "I don't see why I have to do this
because you worry." "I
can't stop worrying anymore than you can stop being a teenager.
So the answer is still ‘yes’, if you want.
Make me an offer."
key was that Mom was very clear that she was both willing to let her daughter go
and willing to not let her go. Many
parents sabotage this entire process by being unwilling for the child to choose
a “bad” consequence. As they
protect the child from "suffering" the consequence, they undermine
themselves. They teach children
that their parents will give in if they threaten their parents by choosing to
suffer! -- sounds crazy, but the craziest thing, is that it often works!
A NEGATIVE PROCESS TO AN AFFIRMATIVE PROCESS
with her mother's firm stance, her daughter began to make offers.
Since this is a real story about a real mother and a real teenager, you
should know that her offers were pretty lousy!
She was very experienced and expert at being negative but had little
practice in offering something affirmative.
Her first offers were actually negative offers.
"If you let me go, I won't nag you anymore."
"I'll stop fighting with my little brother..." Surprised?
Being negative, intimidating that she would become negative, offering to
stop being negative was what she knew. We
had discussed this beforehand, so Mom simply said, "That doesn't work for
why not?" With this challenge,
the daughter was inviting the mother into an argument -- a replication of the
hundreds of previous fruitless arguments. She
didn't bite. Mom reiterated,
"No, that doesn't work for me. Make
me another offer." This really
threw her daughter off. Arguing she
knew, negotiating and making offers were new.
I promise to be good... to stay in one place... not to drink or do drugs...to
stay with my friends. How's
that?" Kids often (adults too) will promise anything at times to get
what they want. Also, a promise is
not a tangible offer. Mom said that
she still would worry. At this, her
daughter played the outrage-hurt-betrayed card,
You saying you don't trust me!?" This accusation is a trap --that
not trusting the daughter was the ultimate betrayal. And, to avoid this, the mother would have to let her go.
However, the mother was prepared for this trap.
"I already said that I trusted you.
It is everybody and everything else that I don't trust.
Besides, I asked you to make me an offer so that I don't have to worry as
much. Make an offer."
took the daughter several attempts to think of something that worked for Mom.
The power dynamic had been shifted significantly.
Instead of Mom frantically searching for a way to satisfy her, her
daughter now had to come up with an offer.
More importantly, the young woman gained power and control through an
affirmative rather than a negative process.
Mom held fast to the principles, and after quite a bit of discussion, the
daughter finally came up with something workable.
She got to go to the concert, but she was to bring a cellular phone and
four times during the concert at prearranged times call to let her mother know
that she was safe (not drunk, beaten up, etc.).
In reality there are few perfect solutions.
However, Mom was allowed to be a mother (and to worry) and her daughter
to be a teenager (and to be independent), and for their relationship to mature.
True power and control was obtained not through negativity but through
creative mutually respectful affirmative strategies.
all parents would come to this solution -- many parents would feel that 15 is
too young to go to a concert (especially a Beastie Boys Concert!) regardless.
Boundaries vary from family to family.
The principles here are much more important. Whenever the actual decision, learning that power and
control should be gained with responsibility to others' needs is critical to the
healthy development of self-esteem. Parents who continually restrict and
restrain their children, inadvertently take away children's sense of power and
control, leading to rebellion and defiance.
On the other hand, when children are respected and giving choice, they
are more willing to accept the boundaries.
How children can come to accept parental decisions and "magic
pills" will be discussed next.
15: MAGIC vs. REALITY and RESULTS
in POWER and CONTROL, “TAKE ONE CHILD… M
does it have to be so hard? I read all
the books and magazines. I went to all
the classes. I talked to the doctors and teachers.
I knew what my parents did well and not so well. The world is changing
and I'm changing with it.
read to the baby and played the right music... even before my baby was born!
Just Sesame Street and the Discovery Channel.
Of course, no guns. We gave
the boys dolls and let them know that nurturing was masculine.
We let the girls climb and play sports and let them know that being
powerful was feminine. We picked
the house, the neighborhood, and the schools for them.
else am I supposed to do? Can't it
be easier? All this, and still....
Phonics or whole language, "academic" or developmental,
pacifiers or thumbs or nothing, schedule or demand feeding, T-ball or soccer,
overnights? naps? dating? And the questions and demands!
They weren't in the books! "Where do babies come from?”
“But Jody has two moms," " Can I....?", "Why?"
"Why do people have to die?"
"How come Charlie's dad hits Charlie's mom?"
" I don't like how Uncle Bobby gives hugs."
"Why did that man shoot those kids?"
books and videos don't tell you. Your
parents do tell you....well, that's another story! And then again, there’s
always SOMEONE telling you! Take
one child.... mix in this or that theory or philosophy... add this or that
technique... stir and bake for one childhood, and ta
da!... take out an intelligent, healthy, moral adult! But it's not that easy! What's
the secret... the magic formula?
MAGIC DIET PLAN
or that self appointed expert (who me!?) always will present to you the magic
plan -- the perfect prescription on how to raise the perfect child. There are often sound research and logical theories in these
prescriptions. However, like all
prescriptions or diet plans there is always the unspoken component. The basic diet plan is take in less calories or the right
calories (eat less or eat the right food) and burn more calories (exercise
more)… with vegetable or meat and egg… cabbage soup!!.. the "eat
anything you want" (yeah, right!) version… tofu versions, nonfat,
low-fat, and high-fat versions, and so forth.
However, there is always a third component to a diet. Stay
on the stupid diet! Duhh! Why
don't people stay on their diets? Will
power? Or, something much more complex? The
complex issues of body image, cultural and gender norms, distinctions between
nourishing and nurturing, nutrition, body chemistry, body type, and especially,
emotional and psychological issues (including depression and self-esteem) can
make staying on any diet overwhelming. Oh
my! Looking for another diet is
easier! And for many people, much
less dangerous than examining why their body or weight is so important to their
sense of worth. In the same way,
some parents are continually looking for another magical parenting plan rather
than examining their core sense of ability and worth as parents -- as human
PILLS AND MAGIC WANDS
the other hand, sometimes something “new” seems to work like magic.
Often, the "magic" comes from a clarity of logic. For example, children tend to be willing to accept control
and discipline when they feel that their needs too are respected.
Parents need to be sure to allow the opportunities for appropriate power
and control. Vegetables have to be eaten, but the choice given to the
children is whether or not they want carrots or broccoli. While chores may be mandated, children may choose whether to
do them before or after dinner. Applying
these kinds of principles does not mean that everything will work out magically.
Sometimes a choice is followed by "forgetting" to take out the
garbage. Then parents must
follow-through on consequences set earlier. Your ability to follow-through with
reasonable consequences on a consistent basis will be put to a test. Consistency
has a magic of its own.
there are no magic techniques... period.
Anyone who claims they have one is over simplifying the wonderful
complexity of children and parenting. I often show my counseling clients my
magic wands and magic pills. I wave the magic wands at them or I offer them a selection of
magic pills (actually Jelly Bellies) and ask them to take a red one for anger, a
blue one for depression, and so forth. Afterwards,
I ask them "Is everything okay now?"
At this point, they wonder if I'm the one who needs help!
The magic wand and the magic pills don't work... and, the crystal ball on
my desk can't tell them their future either!
However, we can figure out what made them who they are and created their
relationships and dynamics. And
with this understanding, we can figure out how to improve things.
The same is true of interacting with and disciplining children -- no
magic pills or magic wands. However,
who they are and your relationships and dynamics are logical, which when well
understood lead to growth and change. There
is no magic, but when you are clear, it is almost magical how readily you can
come to appropriate parenting decisions.
-- HOLDING ON AND LETTING GO
year, our high school freshman asked if she could go to a dance.
She had already gone to several dances --
a couple of high school dances and a couple of church youth group
sponsored dances. She always went
with friends that we knew, and either we or their parents drove.
There were implicit and explicit expectations about behavior and
responsibilities: staying on the site, calling for a ride, and obviously, no
drinking alcohol and so forth. There
were some minor misunderstandings, but nothing unexpected when a more
independent relationship between teenager and parents is developing.
She had made good choices and enjoyed her new independence as a teenager.
could not really know what was going on when she was at the dances.
It was uncomfortable to give up control. However, making good choices cannot be only talked about, it
must be allowed to be experienced. We
sent her off with a smile, gritted our teeth and held our breaths!
When I came to pick her up, I was always relieved to see her safe and
sound where we had agreed for her to be. It
was like when she took her first faltering steps as an eleven month-old child.
Should I let go? Is she ready? Will
she fall? Will she be hurt? Should
I hold on? I'm was afraid then too.
I held my breath then as well, but I did let go because I knew she could not
learn how to walk on her own if I held on.
The questioning of how much to hold on, of the need to let go, of that
agony of letting go repeats itself over and over throughout your child's
upbringing. It's amazing that I
ever get enough oxygen into my lungs as many times as I have held my breath...
and will hold my breath!
particular dance, however, was a high school
and college age dance sponsored by a very reputable community organization.
She said that several her friends were going (actually, several of her friends wanted
to go -- not the same thing!). It
was an easy decision -- not just a fear based decision. It was one thing for her to go to dances with her friends
(who we knew, liked, and trusted) with other high school students, but it was
another thing altogether to allow her to go to a dance with college age kids --
in other words, with young men and women up to their mid-twenties.
We explained to her our reasons for not letting her go.
It was not about whether or not we trusted her; it was about not trusting
the circumstances. Of course, she
was disappointed. However, she
accepted it -- and accepted it fairly graciously (how's that for magical!).
She accepted our asserting power and control about this dance (and
perhaps, begrudgingly accepted our logic), because she had been given so much
power and control in choosing to attend other dances.
denied this dance was acceptable to her (as much as any teenager can accept
being restricted!), and we as parents felt that we had been appropriately
responsible, respectful, responsive, and consistent in setting boundaries.
At times, the relationship between us as parents and teenager feels
magical. This magic, however,
didn't come from luck -- it came from study, practice, risk-taking, and work.
It came from earlier times when, we said to a three-year-old, "You
want ice cream? If you eat dinner,
you may have ice cream for dessert. If
not... then not". And, a
three-year-old who sometimes didn't get her ice cream.
Moral Virtue, and Power and Control in are essential to the healthy development
of self-esteem in a child. However,
each person also needs to feel that they are successful -- competent in the
areas of their lives that they feel are important to them. This would be Coopersmith's fourth area of self-esteem --
Competence. We need to build the sense of competence in our children as we
develop the self-esteem of our children.