Authority and Imposition

Authority and Imposition

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Does authority need to be intimidating?

Sure enough, we sometimes have to impose ourselves on our children. After all, they can’t understand that the painful shot they’re getting from this scary stranger wearing a white coat is for their ‘own good’. The question is how do we exert our ‘authority/control’ over a confused, misunderstanding young child? Should we intimidate them with a harsh demand of ‘You will do this!’ or should we commiserate with compassion and empathy so that they can at least know that we’re on their side?

I love the Christian ‘golden rule’, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. But, because kids are still trying to learn what this world is all about, in addition to all those things that are expected of them, children are left in a position that requires us to give more unto them as others than we should expect to have done unto us.

In other words, if we complain about having to get a shot, we might not feel put out by hearing something said like, ‘Oh stop it, you know you have to get this shot… just do it’. We might even tolerate being laughed at a little for being so silly. We’ve been around long enough to understand. Thing is, young kids do not understand in the beginning. Consequently, if we are going to be caring, concerned parents, we should be more respectful and sensitive toward our children when they are confronted with these kinds of situations.

When it comes to imposing ourselves upon our kids it becomes a matter of degree and frequency. Perhaps it’s because we all know that kids tend to emulate us, please us, and cooperate with our wishes, that we sometimes take them for granted or take advantage of their willingness to quickly forgive our harshness or rudeness toward them.

Children being ordered about to perform tasks or errands that serve the self-interest of only the parent is a good example of imposition. These kinds of demands made upon them can make them feel as if they are being placed in the role of an indentured servant (it hurts their feelings to be told what to do just as it usually hurts our feelings to be ‘ordered about’ rather than ‘respectfully requested’).

Because parents often interpret these kinds of angry ‘hurt feelings’ reactions to represent displays of ‘defiance’ from the child, many will react by introducing a level of intimidation to coerce the child into compliance. In using intimidation as a means of control, a parent might demand that the children pick up their toys, while the kids are wondering why mom is being mean and hurtful (with anger and resistance a common reaction).

The kids are left to draw this conclusion because it makes no sense at all to young children to pick-up all their toys when they are just going to be playing with them again later. In circumstances such as these (which often apply where young children are concerned), is it really a good idea to impose our authority upon children with harsh demands and the threat of punishment? I don’t think so. But, as an alternative approach to discipline, the kids might very well respond positively if mom were to instead make a worried fuss over being afraid of tripping over a toy and getting hurt.

This ‘teaching’ tact is worlds apart from imposing intimidating threats because instead of the children feeling unfairly treated and hurt they are presented with the undesirable prospect of their toys possibly hurting mommy. As a result, they will be much more prone to offer their willing cooperation in picking-up their toys. Seeking the cooperation of children is far more effective than demanding it, while also serving as an approach that poses no risk to the quality of the parent-child relationship.

It’s simply a myth that parents are required to sacrifice a high-quality human relationship with their children in the name of maintaining control over them through intimidation, threat, and punitive measures. I can’t imagine a more important human relationship for pursuing a respectful, mutually nurturing, harmonious, high-quality relationship, than the one between a mother and her child, or the relationship between a father and his child.

But instead, it seems that on the contrary, many of us can be seen showing more consideration, regard, and respect toward another adult who might be someone like the new cashier at the supermarket who’s a complete stranger than we show toward our own children (I wonder if anyone has failed to personally observe this phenomenon taking place).

What’s so sad about this is the fact that our keeping a distant ‘air of authority’ over our children is not only illusionary in terms of the best way to stay in control, it’s also entirely unnecessary and often counter-productive in terms of the desired outcome. The kids sure aren’t impressed with our power issues and our assumed notions that intimidation is the only avenue by which to gain their cooperation and bend them to our wills. And, they’re more likely to hurtfully resent being treated with such rude, disrespectful regard than they are to respond in a positive, favorable manner.

We all know as parents that from very early on, our own day-to-day behavior is a behavioral model for our kids, and they do their best to emulate what we do. If the word ‘please’ is in our vocabulary, our kids learn the word ‘please’. If we relate to our children in a respectful manner, they learn to relate to us in a respectful manner. If we make our wishes known by demanding, ‘You will do this, and you will do that’, in the form of warnings, we can fully expect that our kids will be prone to making their own wishes known to others in the same rude manner they have learned from us.

This modeling process works very well as a learning tool for children until we begin to lose patience with them by expecting that they should learn what we are teaching them more quickly than is reasonable. This usually applies to the rules and regulations we expect them to adopt and internalize.

For example, manners and social graces are extremely difficult socialization skills for kids to learn. It’s not unreasonable for a young child to ask, ‘Mommy, what do the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ have to do with me needing a drink of water? It doesn’t make sense, and I don’t often hear you saying those words when you want me to do something like making me put on those stupid hot clothes and shoes before we go out in the middle of Summer to sweat to death.’

I give these examples because part of our problem with ‘losing the patience of a good teacher’ comes through our having long forgotten the level of logic available to young children. Too often, through our inability to relate to the world of our children, we look through our own eyes and see many of the lessons we teach the kids as amazingly simple things that have long been mere matters of second nature to us.

This perception can lead us to feel that the children must not wish to listen, or cooperate, or show proper respect, or are displaying disobedience when they keep breaking rules ‘they have already learned, and they should now know better’.

It’s often at this point in the relationships we have with our children that we first begin to lose patience with them in a more demanding, punitive manner. The question is, are they failing us, or are we failing them? True enough, most kids will blame themselves for being too stupid to measure up to expectations, and some will even feel they deserve whatever punishment they get for failing their parents.

But, given the possible circumstances that I only lightly touched upon above, many of us might find it a highly beneficial exercise to take a harder look at one of our more time-honored parenting concepts. Of course, I’m referring to a parenting practice of discipline that is built upon a counter-nurturing foundation of imposition, subjugation, intimidation, and coercion. And, if we can no longer see the world through the eyes of a young child, are we justified in subjecting our children to these unloving forms of treatment in the face of our inability to understand why they do the things they do?

And, would we consider it an act of cruelty to inflict punishment upon a child based on a mistaken assumption on our part through a lack of thorough understanding as to the actual reasons behind the behavior being punished? (I say ‘we’ because there was a time early on in my adult life when I shared this authoritarian attitude toward children myself. I went-on to discover that the more I learned about Child Behavior, the more I found the concept of punishment, as so many parents apply it, to be unfair, unnecessary, and the cause of a great deal of unjust suffering on the part of children.).

I recently saw someone quoting a statement saying that ‘we get angry at our kids because we can’. I’m forced to add that we also sometimes bully our kids because we can. Then again, we certainly can’t be expected to be perfect human beings or mistake-proof parents, but, at least when it comes to our kids, we can strive for perfection.

write by Mildred

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