Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Who is out of control? Your children? Or... you?

*This is the third post in a series on the book Out of Control: Why Disciplining Your Child Doesn't Work and What Will by Dr. Shefali Tsabary. 

Whether we are aware of it or not, there is a pervasive idea among parents that most of us have ascribed to at one time or another. The [false] idea is that our children are our possessions. We believe that because we brought them into the world, they are ours. We are therefore allowed to dictate their lives (up to a certain age). With a desire to teach our children, we justify coercion, manipulation and even physical punishment.
"Generations the world over have subscribed to an approach of parenting which states that, by reason of age and experience, the parent is at the top of the pyramid and the child by default at the bottom. The idea is that children should fit into the parent's world, not the other way around. [...] The root of the dysfunction we experience as individuals, nations, and a world lies in the believe that people need to be controlled - a belief that no matter the culture or part of the world we come from, pervades our parenting. The need to dominate is what discipline is all about...."
According to Dr. Tsabary, much of what we call "discipline" is really just a parental temper tantrum in disguise. We believe that our children are a reflection of our own value and worth, and it is this belief that often drives our need to control.

Have you ever taken your child to a store, only to have them throw an epic tantrum in the middle of the outing? If you are like me, you probably felt your blood pressure rise as you noticed everyone's eyes on you. I just knew that everyone was judging my parenting, questioning whether or not I was handling the situation correctly. I can remember (more than once) grabbing my child's arm and squeezing it tightly to try and enforce the behavior I wanted. Another time, I got in my child's face, and talking through gritted teeth, I told her exactly what would happen (probably a spanking or the loss of a loved toy/activity) if she didn't quit her behavior. I needed to be in control. I was uncomfortable.

I can think of no other situation in which I can control so much of someone's life. My children are almost-6 and 4-year-old, and if I wanted to, I could control what they eat, when they eat, what they wear, when they sleep, what they watch, what they play with, when they go outside the house, and what friends they can see. This ability to control can become addictive.

I didn't always see it this way, but I can now see that many of the times I felt the need to discipline my children were a direct result of my control being challenged. In essence, I was having a bit of temper tantrum because I wasn't getting my way.

"No, you can't wear those clothes because they don't match."

"Eat the food I cooked for you, or you're not going to have anything to eat."

"Stop crying right this minute, or you'll be in BIG trouble."

"UGH! I said 'stop running around the house!' You kids are making me SO ANGRY!"

And even though we may say we're "teaching" our children - that we're disciplining them - in reality, we're not teaching them much more than how to have another tantrum. This becomes clear when you hear your child speaking to their sibling in a terrible way, and realize that they're talking exactly the same way you often do.

So my challenge to you is to step back when you feel your blood pressure rising. Are you about to have a tantrum? Is this situation something you need to exert control over? Or a situation in which you can practice better self-control? 

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