A common challenge parents face today is finding the right balance between kindness and firmness. Many parents find themselves being too kind and not firm; others may be very firm without a lot of kindness. Often parents end up recognising this and can then flip-flop between the two extremes, which can lead to being too kind until their children drive them crazy and then being so firm they feel like a tyrant.
We know that yelling and punishing our children are not effective or mutually respectful parenting tools. As Jane Nelsen, the author of “Positive Discipline” says, “Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse?”
Punishment may work in the short term by initially stopping the undesirable behaviour; however, this strategy can incite rebellion (they can’t make me, or I just won’t get caught next time), revenge (I’ll get even and hurt back), or even retreat or low self-esteem (I must be bad). As Jane Nelsen advises parents, “Think of the last time you felt humiliated or treated unfairly. Did you feel like cooperating or doing better?” Punitive punishment does not encourage children to be internally motivated or problem solvers, or even promote honesty.
On the other hand, extreme kindness without firmness can lead to permissive parenting, which, in turn, teaches children to expect to be taken care of and creates an “entitled” attitude. This may cause children to feel that they are not capable individuals and make them unable to deal with disappointment.
Positive Discipline introduces parents to the idea of being kind and firm at the same time.
Finding the balance between loving-kindness and understanding and validating a child’s feelings, while also remaining firm on what limits have been set and what the parent considers important and reasonable behaviour can be a challenge. To do this, parents must take some time to consider and know their own hard limits. In advance, they should decide upon which issues are non-negotiable and which can be discussed with their children and agreed upon.
The “non-negotiables” should be discussed in a mutually respectful and kind manner, allowing for empathy and sympathy while adhering to what is reasonable, acceptable and respectful to all.
Andrea Kilam-Higgo and Philippa Roney are teachers at Cayman International School.