We have been discussing how we can help our children with boundaries, structure and discipline. The second principle seems to be a more difficult one for many of our parents, particularly in today’s society in which the relational dynamics and roles between children and parents are often at odds. It is easy for parents to attempt to be friends with their children which grays the distinctions between roles, but the second principle clarifies that parents and caregivers are in charge.
The role of the parent: be in charge
Parents have a unique role to their children, different than friends, and should embrace their parental distinctions. Parents have a unique kind of love and concern for the welfare of their child that friends and others in their lives typically do not have.
While parents wish to have open communication with their children, they may fear losing closeness or love by setting limits. However, setting limits and providing structure sends a clear message of safety to the child because it tells the child that the parents are in control and in charge. Without that clarity, children receive a confusing message: no one can protect them and they must keep themselves safe as they grow through ages and stages. This can be rather frightening.
Further, this sense of independence can foster a misconception in teens that they can do anything they wish. So, it is important that the parental role of control and authority be established early in life.
The other issue that professionals often see is called parentification. In this condition, the relationship has been established in such a way that the roles become reversed: the child feels like his role is to take care of the parent, a role for which he is not equipped or prepared. Parentification also leads to the misconception that the child is equally in charge and responsible for his own life.
As children develop, they need an intact normal process of growth and development. Children go through all kinds of emotional, relational, moral and spiritual processes, and should typically have permission to be impulsive, immature and egocentric. The parent who is aware and clear about that process; loves his child unconditionally; and establishes clear boundaries, consequences and roles, provides the stability and structure for the child to grow and develop safely.
So, parents, if there are times when you have to say “no” or “not yet,” or have to discipline your child, you should recognize that this kind of love will be essential to his safety, normal development and growth. It may feel very difficult to do at the time but it is one of the most valuable gifts you can give to your child.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network
Information taken from Pathways to Competence, Sarah Landy, p. 401-402..