Little kids are kind of like puppies. They usually love unconditionally and are often forgiving when parents make mistakes of all kinds. Mom nags, child whines, they get through it and get back to normal quickly. Dads yell, kids cry, but then as soon as dad cools down, they snuggle. Kids can be so gracious with struggling parents. That’s a good thing!
Kids often don’t remember the little day-to-day tussles that come along (unless parents REALLY blow it in some large, memorable fashion) and the little stuff just seems to slide away over time. It’s easy for parents to take advantage of this grace by continuing to think that whatever they’re doing is “working” because their child is so accommodating.
However, if parents regularly get what they want by yelling and nagging, it becomes a pattern that kids will come to resent more and more over time. It makes me wonder:
Maybe if kids were less forgiving during their early years it would force parents to learn to be more thoughtful and graceful from the start.
I watched a mom at the grocery store with her two young sons, perhaps five and seven years old. They were strolling in the meat section and all was well until the older boy reached impulsively into the cooler and grabbed a big rib-eye steak. The mom erupted, “Put that back right now if you ever want to eat again! How many times do I have to tell you?” He quickly returned the steak, and the mom continued her shaming lecture, almost as if to show off to any onlookers how commanding she could be.
The younger son walked away, clearly wanting out of this situation, and the older son endured his mom’s rant while looking at the floor.
When she finished they continued through the store and soon the boys were joking and goofing off with each other, (and with mom!) as if nothing had happened. In mom’s mind this was over. It had “worked.” Everything was back to normal. It was evident that her “be the tough parent” tactics were familiar to both her and her children.
Teenagers are not like puppies
Fast forward a few years. Will her tactics be effective with teenage boys? Probably not. Studies of dogs have shown that puppies who are consistently trained with yelling and intimidation begin to display negative traits (anxiety, depression, aggression) in later years. We can expect we would see similar results with children. Kids habitually raised this way will also carry that into later years and can tend to become rebellious and defiant as teenagers. Their parents wonder, “What happened all of a sudden?!”
The real answer is that kids don’t learn this behavior overnight and it doesn’t happen “suddenly”. As they grow older, and more able to intuitively understand that they are being mistreated, kids become less forgiving of their parents’ behavior. They haven’t been taught how to respectfully address this with their parents, so they fight disrespectfully. It’s not just a “troubled teen” problem at this point, but troubled parents too, and it’s the parent’s job to lead the way into change.
Deciding whether you want to change (or not) involves looking at more than just your kids’ behavior to determine if your tactics are working. It requires looking at your behavior as well. Beneath your discipline you are constantly communicating messages to your children about who they are.
You may be reading this and wondering, “This sounds like me! What do I do now?”
- Prayerfully look at your own heart and motivations. This will help you start communicating the messages you want your children to believe about themselves throughout their lives.
- Ask yourself, “If I was my child, being treated the way I treat him or her, how would I feel? Would I feel more trusting and respectful, or less?”
- Take our 15-minute parenting assessment to see where your strengths and areas for growth are in your parenting.
You’re not alone– many parents have good intentions to raise respectful, obedient kids, but don’t take the time to consider the impact of their methods, or try to learn new and more respectful ways of keeping their kids accountable. If you feel you are ready to learn a framework on which to base your parenting, we’d love to equip you! It is our joy to watch families grow and connect in new ways as they impart God’s grace and truth in their homes.