What is real parent power? The power of a parent does not come from telling a child what to do, or from having “possession” of a child. And it surely does not manifest itself in the form of hitting a child in order to “discipline” him by instilling fear. It is not having “control” over children, but rather, knowing what characteristics and actions will, when combined, be the perfect recipe for helping a child grow into a good, contributing citizen.
All too often, parents desire to have “power over” young people. Have you even been in a job situation in which a person misused his power and always nagged you, made you do things you didn’t want to do, or constantly looked over your shoulder? Annoying, right? What was your feeling? What did you really want to say to him? What did you want to do to him?
The behavior he displayed did not make you more powerful. His behavior was disempowering, because it showed lack of confidence in your abilities. It demonstrated a lack of trust. Overall, it made you resent him. Hmmm, does that boss’ behavior sound similar to anything a child might experience?
Talk with your kids
At the top of my concern list is the route parents take when they say they’re “pushed to the limit.” I have heard it referred to as “the last resort,” when a parent feels she has to show her power by yelling at or hitting her child to discipline him. Parents say things like, “I have to talk to them five and six times!” or “He thinks just because he’s getting older, he can talk to me any old kind of way?” Yes, parents, I hear you. But there’s a reason behind a child blocking out your communication, and there’s a way to make sure he doesn’t block you out — and it doesn’t involve hitting.
Think of it like this: there are people you genuinely like speaking to, because they have things to say that you like to hear, while there are others who may be less appealing to speak to, because they either can’t relate to you, or they’re saying things that are adverse to your beliefs. Nonetheless, as an adult, you have the power to tune a person out, or cut communication all together. Unfortunately, children can seldom do that with their parents. Just imagine always being questioned by someone, always having someone tell you what to do, always having someone suggesting her way is the best way, and invalidating your point of view. That’s a demonstration of being spoken TO or AT.
Being spoken WITH feels much different. There’s an actual exchange of communication in the latter. If more adults had conversations WITH children, both parties would benefit from the understanding that would result.
The communication we have with children does not always have to be about jurisdiction, giving orders, implications, inspection, and other “adult interest” topics. Children don’t always have the same concerns adults have. Cleaning up the house and finishing homework may be really important topics for adults to address, but it’s not about addressing them. It’s about being wise enough to cater to a child’s interest by finding out what is important to him, and talking about that for a change.
The busy schedule and life challenges of a parent cannot supersede the importance of her children’s interests. If adults don’t lend importance to what children say and think, children will quickly lose interest in what adults say and think. Getting the respect and trust of children cannot be forced. Those values develop out of their experiences with and observations of adults.
Children’s ideas count, and their viewpoints are valid. Adults only have to listen, watch, and use their wisdom to direct the paths of children.
Let the sun shine
During a recent book discussion, a wise gentleman likened babies to little suns. He said that when children are born, they shine brightly, and life experiences tend to dim those lights over time.
“That’s it!” I thought. Can we, as parents and educators, motivate and cultivate children so that those rays KEEP shining brightly, well into their teen years? Can we give them enough tools and happiness to shine brightly as adults?
During that discussion, I think everyone involved realized that we could be doing more to foster more growth in these little lights. Hitting a child to discipline him dims the lights. Yelling at a child dims the lights. Invalidating the efforts of a child dims the lights. We only have to think of the things in our lives that make us feel bright. Once we do that, then we can look at whether or not we give out the behavior we’d like to take in.
Many adults rationalize the spankings they got as children and say, “Well, those spankings did OK by me — I turned out to be a better person because of them.” The idea here is that being hit by their parents kept them from doing harmful things. But, people, was the decision to not repeat the harmful acts done out of fear, or out of reason? Children will only make good decisions if they have the ability to REASON — to think or argue logically.
A parent who does not take the time to give a child thinking and negotiating skills will raise a child who will become a less powerful adult. Think about it: not being able to reason and negotiate as an adult will cost the adult a job and a good relationship — all because the parent took more time to discipline the child and make him STOP things, rather than taking the time to allow the child to experience and explore things. Granting a child freedom has nothing to do with letting him run all over the place, it means helping the child feel liberated with the ability to eliminate life’s barriers — with the skills you give him.
Those in power lead easier lives. There is nothing wrong with granting children easier lives. Whether you envision others having all the power, or whether you equip your child with the ability to harness his power, and use it, is only a decision. Power, when displayed, shapes and molds the way one thinks, sees or acts. Power inspires. It lends vision and fortifies faith.
Dig deep and find your power. It’s that stuff that makes you creative, confident, able, and loved by others. Then, look at your child, and REALLY observe the power he was born with, and find ways to strengthen what you discover. Put a new twist on the power exerted in your home. Don’t let it be about your control over anyone. Let it be about how much light all of you can muster up and give out to the rest of the world.
Asadah Kirkland is the author of “Beating Black Kids.” For more information, visit www.beatingblackkids.com.