Knowing when to stand firm as a parent and when to extend mercy can be a difficult challenge, and can leave your kids feeling confused about your authority.
Have you heard yourself say these things?
…That is not ok, do you understand me? How many times do I have to tell you?
…If you finish your chores, I’ll get you a bowl of ice cream.
…Ok, I’ll let this go this time, but next time there will be a big consequence.
…My child never listens to me!
If you often find yourself backing down or offering bribes when you feel you should stand firm, you’re not alone! Taking charge of this dynamic requires more than just a, “Be the parent – don’t give in so easily” mindset. If it was that simple, you wouldn’t still be questioning yourself.
Consider a couple strategies to help you develop the loving authority your kids need:
A “kind but firm” approach: empathize and give clear choices
Use a calm and respectful tone when you address your kids, and let them know you understand what it’s like to be them. Then offer two “you can…” choices with a clear boundary. This combination might look like this:
“I know you are tired after school and love to relax and play, I often feel that way after work. So you can choose to get your chore out of the way and then play, or you can play now and do your chore before dinner. But it must be done when you come to dinner.”
If they give more pushback, give more empathy, but don’t change the request. No deals.
[If you would like more details about consequences, check out the in-depth appendix of our book Discipline that Connects with Your Child’s Heart.]
If this sort of approach is new to your kids, they may fight it before they understand that you won’t change your mind. Stay calm and just let them know repeatedly that you understand but you won’t be hooked by their emotional drama, and your boundaries are firm. Once kids sense your confidence, they are far more likely to respect your authority.
When “kind and firm” doesn’t work, or your child doesn’t respond, it could be worth a look beneath the surface.
Introspection: What’s going on under the surface?
There is almost always more going on in habitual conflicts than meets the eye, and it could be your kids know that in spite of your firm approach, you are still not feeling confident and resolved about your own authority.
Parenting is rooted in a combination of personality, experiences, and beliefs about our kids and ourselves as parents. Turning a few stones of self-awareness has proven to be helpful to many parents stuck in negative patterns.
If any of these issues (or others you identify) cause you to feel timid when trying to discipline, this isn’t a “stand tall and go get ‘em” lecture! It’s an encouragement to access God’s grace and truth for you and your kids. Below you’ll see some hurtful beliefs with which you might identify, and some helpful truths that you could use to replace them.
Underlying Issue or Emotion: Family History
* I believe strong authority is hurtful because of the poor example of my own strict or harsh parents.
* My parents were disengaged or passive and I had no example of confident, engaged authority.
* I can carve a different path than my parents, and learn to be kind and firm, which my child really needs.
Underlying Issue or Emotion: Anxiety about conflict
* I believe that conflict is bad, or that it means my child doesn’t love me.
* I find myself doing whatever I need to do to avoid my child’s displeasure or rejection.
* Conflict is a normal part of life and healthy relationships.
* I don’t need my kids’ constant approval to be ok.
* Standing firm when my child needs it will gradually earn his or her respect.
Underlying Issue or Emotion: Misguided compassion
* I am deeply sensitive and compassionate, and believe, “I hate to cause my child distress by giving a consequence.”
* I may reduce expectations and avoid giving needed consequences, because my child has special circumstances (i.e. learning disability, anxiety, ADD, family stress or divorce).
* I want my compassion to truly help my kids, not hinder them.
* My kids need to be prepared to accept the boundaries and consequences life will give them.
Underlying Issue or Emotion: Shame
* I don’t feel worth listening to. I sometime think, or even say out loud, “You never listen to me,” as if to declare, “I’m inadequate to parent you. You will always disregard what I say.”
* Parenting my child with authority is a God-given calling.
* God will grow me strong enough to fulfill the calling He has given me.
Underlying Issue or Emotion: Fear
* My intense child holds me hostage with explosive behavior.
* I often believe, “I can’t endure another meltdown.”
* I walk on eggshells and give in just to avoid setting off another episode.
* Giving in to meltdowns fertilizes them. In all circumstances God gives me strength.
* As I stay strong and calmly avoid giving in to my child’s demands, they will lessen over time.
What corresponding helpful truth is empowering to you? You can alter wording as needed so that you relate to it strongly, or ask God to show you a very personal truth to strengthen you. Which of these hurtful beliefs resonates most with you?
Whatever truths stand out to you, write them down
and keep them visible until they grow your confidence.
You may recognize your need is simply a “kind but firm” approach to setting limits, or a deeper dive below the surface of your heart. Either way, you can trust God to grow you in your confident authority.
2 Timothy 1:7 promises us, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” You love your child! That determined love will help you stand on your God-given identity as “called and capable.” Be encouraged. You can learn to give your child guidance and limits that will ultimately build both trust in your relationship and respect for authority that he or she will need in life.
This post gives an overview of our Discipline That Connects with Your Child’s Heart principles.