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November 17, 2022

6 Ways to a Healthy Parent-Child Relationship

As a father, you are going to confront contests of wills with your daughter many times. In those moments where your authority as a parent is challenged, it is extremely important for you to "win." Why? Because a child who behaves in ways that are disrespectful or harmful to herself or others often has a hidden motive. Whether she recognizes it or not, she is usually seeking to verify the existence and stability of the boundaries. 

A child who defies the leadership of her parents is reassured when they remain confident and firm under fire. It creates a sense of security for a kid who lives in a structured environment in which the rights of other people (and her own) are protected by well-defined limits.

With that said, here are the how-tos of shaping a child's will. I've boiled this complex topic down to six straightforward guidelines that I hope will be helpful, the first of which is most important…

First: Begin Teaching Respect for Authority While Children Are Very Young

The most urgent advice I can give to the parents of an assertive, independent child is to establish their positions as strong but loving leaders when Missy is in the preschool years.

This is the first step toward helping her learn to control her powerful impulses. Alas, there is no time to lose, because a naturally defiant youngster is in a high-risk category for antisocial behavior later in life. She is more likely to challenge her teachers in school and question the values she has been taught. Her temperament leads her to oppose anyone who tries to tell her what to do. Fortunately, this outcome is not inevitable, because the complexities of the human personality make it impossible to predict behavior with complete accuracy.

But the probabilities lie in that direction. Thus, you must begin shaping the will of the particularly aggressive child very early in life. (Notice that I did not say to crush her will or to destroy it or to snuff it out, but to rein it in for her own good.) But how is that accomplished?

Well, first let me tell you how not to approach that objective. Harshness, gruffness, and sternness are not effective in shaping a child's will. Likewise, constant whacking and threatening and criticizing are destructive and counterproductive. A parent who is mean and angry most of the time is creating resentment that will be stored and come roaring into the relationship during adolescence or beyond. Therefore, every opportunity should be taken to keep the tenor of the home pleasant, fun, and accepting. At the same time, however, parents should display confident firmness in their demeanor. You, Dad, are the boss. You are in charge. If you believe it, your daughter will accept it also.

Second: Define the Boundaries before They Are Enforced

Preceding any disciplinary event is the necessity of establishing reasonable expectations and boundaries for the child. She should know what is and is not acceptable behavior before she is held responsible for it. This precondition will eliminate the sense of injustice that a youngster feels when she is punished or scolded for violating a vague or unidentified rule.

Third: Distinguish between Willful Defiance and Childish Irresponsibility

There is a world of difference between childish irresponsibility and "willful defiance." Understanding the distinction will be useful in knowing how to interpret the meaning of the behavior and how to respond to it appropriately.

For instance, children regularly spill things, lose things, break things, forget things, and mess up things. That's the way kids are made. These behaviors represent the mechanism by which children are protected from adult-level cares and burdens. When accidents happen, patience and tolerance are the order of the day. If the foolishness was particularly pronounced for the age and maturity of the individual, you might want to have the youngster help with the cleanup or even work to pay for the loss. Otherwise, I think the event should be ignored.

There is another category of behavior, however, that is strikingly different. It occurs when a child blatantly defies the authority of the parent. She may shout "I will not!" or "You shut up!" or "You can't make me." It may happen when she throws a violent temper tantrum in order to get her way. These behaviors represent a willful, haughty spirit and a determination to disobey. Something very different is going on in those moments. You have drawn a line in the dirt, and she has deliberately stepped across it.

You're both asking, "Who is going to win? Who is in charge here?" If you do not conclusively answer these questions for her, she will precipitate other battles designed to ask them again and again.

Fourth: Reassure and Teach after the Confrontation Is Over

After a time of conflict during which you have demonstrated your right to lead (particularly if it resulted in tears for the child), the youngster between two and seven (or older) will probably want to be loved and reassured. By all means, open your arms and let her come! Hold her close and tell her of your love. Rock her gently and let her know again why she was punished and how she can avoid the trouble next time. This is a teachable moment, when the objective of your discipline can be explained. And for the Christian family, it is extremely important to pray with the child at that time, admitting to God that we have all sinned and no one is perfect. Divine forgiveness is a marvelous experience, even for a very young child.

Fifth: Avoid Impossible Demands

Be absolutely sure that your child is capable of delivering what you require. Never punish her for wetting the bed involuntarily or for not becoming potty-trained by one year of age or for doing poorly in school when she is incapable of academic success. These impossible demands put the child in an irresolvable conflict: there is no way out. That condition brings unnecessary risks to the human emotional apparatus. Besides that, it is simply unjust.

Sixth: Let Love Be Your Guide!

A relationship that is characterized by genuine love and affection is likely to be a healthy one, even though some parental mistakes and errors are inevitable. These six steps should form the foundation for healthy parent-child relationships.

A relationship that is characterized by genuine love and affection is likely to be a healthy one.

From Dr. Dobson's book Dads and Daughters.

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