This is one of the hardest things to do for so many parents. It’s as if saying: “No!” or a soft, but firm: “no” is tantamount to beating them senseless – just kidding! A lot of parents feel that they are squashing their child’s spirit by not letting them do anything that occurs to them. This is a HUGE mistake! Once you understand that setting limits, boundaries and expectations is what children need (and, believe it or not, want) it all looks very different. I am not judging those who do this. I, myself, am guilty of sometimes losing sight of limits, boundaries and expectations over the years with my own child.
For other parents, saying: “no” to their child feels so dramatic that they go overboard with discipline. I’m remembering a parent, from many years ago, who was upset with her five-year-old son and told him to go to his room and sit on his bed for ten minutes. He kept getting up, so she threatened to give away one of his favorite toys. This made it irresistible to him, and so he got up and off the bed one more time. That was it. The line had been crossed. Now it was a stalemate. At this point, the mom felt she had to hold the line. The next day, true to her word, she brought the beloved toy to Housing Works (a second-hand store dedicated to AIDS research). Her son accompanied her but appeared to not care that his toy was being given away. It worried me that her son was acting like he didn’t care. This meant to me that he was afraid to show her that he was scared of her anger. I felt that the punishment didn’t fit the crime. A five-year-old cannot sit on their bed, under pressure, for ten minutes – it’s too much to ask. In addition, giving away a favorite toy is too harsh. I asked her what she would take away from him the next year, then the next. She would have to continuously “up the ante” as he grew up. Where would it end? I strongly suggested that she tell him she was sorry – that she had gotten too angry, and to either get the toy back from Housing Works or buy another one. She took my advise. Her son was so excited, he told everyone that his mom had made a mistake and that she had replaced the toy she had given away. I believe this act fundamentally changed their relationship. From then on, she thought a lot about why she was angry when she got upset with him. Did the punishment fit the crime?