The human child remains with a parent until the child is capable of making his own decisions about his health, safety, and well-being. The parent holds authority over this child until that time — usually through the teen years.
That’s the reason for parent authority. It is not to control the child to be who the parent wants or to demand obedience to make life easier for the parent. This leads to power struggles and rebellion or looking to others for authority and approval.
Your job as parent is to insure that your child does what she shouldn’t be expected to do on her own – simply because she’s too young.
Rick Trinkner of the University of New Hampshire has researched the types of families who raise self-confident, self-controlled, respectful children. Trinkner says,
When children consider their parents to be legitimate authority figures, they trust the parent and feel they have an obligation to do what their parents tell them to do. This is an important attribute for any authority figure to possess, as the parent does not have to rely on a system of rewards and punishments to control behavior, and the child is more likely to follow the rules when the parent is not physically present.
The key word here is legitimate. He goes on to say,
…permissive parents…tend to be warm and receptive to their children’s needs, but place few boundaries on them. If they do establish rules, they rarely enforce them to any great extent. These parents tend to produce children who are the least self-reliant, explorative, and self-controlled out of all the parenting styles.” The study also shows that, “Authoritarian [what I call autocratic] parenting produces children who are discontent, withdrawn, and distrustful.”
So how do we find the balance — authoritative parenting? We use our authority when it is needed and work toward a balance of rights and needs when it is not.
What does legitimate authority mean?
To have legitimate authority, the parent must first let go of autocracy: obedience, and control. For authority to be legitimate your children must feel that it is fair and logical.
Authority does not require holding power over another. Punishment and threats are tools of an autocracy. Legitimate authority is “the power to influence” due to “the confidence resulting from specialized knowledge or personal expertise,” (Oxford Dictionary). The parent’s expertise comes from being an adult.
A strong authority figure does not need techniques of rewards and punishments, threats and praise to accomplish a teaching, guiding presence that influences and commands respect. To exert influence, the child must be receptive. To be receptive the child must feel accepted, supported — gotten.
Appropriate Uses of Parent Authority
Using your authority appropriately means knowing what to expect of each child.
You must expect that your children, varying with age, shouldn’t know what you want, be considerate of your feelings, or make life convenient for you and should want what they want and try hard to get it. That’s why they need a parent.
A child’s job is to do what he wants when he wants it. It is your job to decide what is okay to do and what not. If you expect your child to brush his teeth, go to bed, get off the computer or iPad, be ready to get out the door, do his chores without so much as a reminder, you will be frustrated a good deal of the time. These are your job, not your child’s. Your child’s job is to be a kid.
Children should be allowed to be children, to play, imagine, be egocentric in order to develop properly. That’s why parents are needed for approximately 18 years. It’s your job to make sure things get done or learned that your children don’t and shouldn’t care about — things that are your priorities (their safety, health, etc.), not theirs. Because you are the parent.
Why do I have to yell at you every night about this? You know it’s time for bed, puts a burden of unrealistic expectations on your child that doesn’t feel fair. Of course he doesn’t want to go to bed. So you can tell him that’s why he has a mean old mom, to make sure he does what he doesn’t want to do. When that burden of “shoulds” is off his shoulders, he can better hear and cooperate with what you are telling him it is time to do.
When authority is understood, rules and requirements get simple:
- It’s time for bed. Not: Okay, one more show.
- It’s time to leave for school. Not: Why aren’t you ready? No TV tonight.
- Loud voices belong outdoors. Not: Stop shouting. You’re giving me a headache.
- Hitting hurts. Not: How many times do I have to tell you not to hit? Get to your room.
- It is not okay with me that you make a mess and leave it. I expect a clean kitchen after you make your sandwich. Not: How can you be so inconsiderate? I’m not your slave you know.
When parent authority is understood, there is an Of course mantra in your head:
- Of course you don’t want to get a shot at the doctors. It’s my job to make sure you are healthy so I will help you when you feel afraid.
- It’s no fun to be told what to do when you’d rather not. Parents have to be the bad guys sometimes, and kids get angry. Bummer.
- Of course you wish you could eat sugary food all the time. It’s my job to insure you’re properly nourished, so I will not keep many sweets in the house to tempt you.
- Of course you want to go to that party and do what your friends are doing. As your parent, I have to make the decision that I think is right.
When parent authority is clearly understood, the burden of unrealistic expectations is lifted from a child’s shoulders. Cooperation is more likely because the child doesn’t feel blamed if she reacts like a child. That is expected.
That’s why a child needs a parent.
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