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.