What is Your Parental Authority Based on?

Dad badgeBy: Peter Sessum
There is no quicker way to prove to your child that you have no power over them than to yell, “Respect my authoritah!” While parents do not have to rule with an iron fist, there needs to be some form of authority. Children do not fully understand the consequences of their actions. So until they do they need someone to help guide them and at times keep them in check.

No authority at all
Honestly, this is just bad parenting. It says, “Do whatever you want, I won’t stop you.” That is a horrible message to send to kids. If it was up to them, children would eat cupcakes all day and stay up until 2a.m. Someone has to be the adult.
The toddler that does what he wants will be a hellion as a teenager and most likely a horrible adult. Children need boundaries. When a child hits a sibling with a pillow and is told to hand over the pillow sitting on the pillow is not following the intent or letter of the law, it is a declaration of power. It means that the parent doesn’t have any power over the child.
Unfortunately, this means you have to get up to discipline the child. Every time I see a parent too lazy to get out of their seat I wonder why even say “No” at all. To use an extreme example, how effective would the police be if they never got out of their cars? This teaches kids that as long as they are out of reach, they can do what they want. If your kid ignores you and obeys other adults, you have no authority.

Fear
Of all the forms of authority, this is the worst. The parent that rules the toddler by fear should start saving for therapy and reserve a room in rehab just in case. Ruling by fear is a technique of the weak. It is easy to intimidate a two year old, but it doesn’t work as well with a teenager that is in the full blown rebellious stage and looking for a way to strike back.
This is the unfortunate end result of the authority of fear. All authority is gone as soon as the child realizes he or she can take you. If the fear lasts into adulthood, if the child ever gets a chance to escape, by moving away for any reason, will most likely never return once free. Grandparents are supposed to be able to spoil their grandkids; none want to be known as the horrible grandparents that are not allowed near the kids. Ruling through fear has no positive end result down the road.

Superman
This is a parenting style that is passed down for generations. Dads pass on knowledge and skills to their sons. An unfortunate side effect of our modern society is that men do not have to do so many tasks. Men used to be far more handy around the house. It seems like our grandfathers could do anything. They could rewire a house, work on a car, fix appliances, drive a tractor, ride a horse, fix the plumbing and grill a mean steak. They were, for all intents and purposes, modern day supermen. Now, we seem best at Googling how to do something than having that knowledge on hand.
Dads used to know everything and be able to do anything. It was why they commanded authority. You listened to them because they knew everything. Some men find themselves handy and try and pull the superman act. There is nothing wrong with it, but you can’t declare yourself a superman dad, your kids have to bestow that mantle on you. The downside of being superman is that you lose all authority once the kids realize you are not. As soon as kids realize a man is not superman not only do they lose all authority, they lose respect. It is like pulling back the curtain and seeing your dad is not the great and powerful Oz. It is a letdown and can be difficult to recover from.

House of cards
This is little better than no authority. A house of cards seems solid when it is standing alone but the slightest pressure on any part will make the whole thing collapse and fold. Everyone has seen this parent. The kid asks for something and the parent says, “No.” After enough pleading the parent changes that to a maybe to get the kid to settle down. Eventually, this becomes a “Yes” just to get the kid to shut up.
What many do not realize is that this kind of actions perpetuates itself. As long as it works, a child will do it. The parent has actually taught the child that the way to get what you want it is persist. Kids are smart, as soon as they realize that this doesn’t work, they will try something else. Unfortunately, to get the kid to stop bugging parents in the short term a major punishment has to be handed down.

The punisher
This is just a variation on the fear based authority. Instead of any physical fear, it is fear of punishment. Kids should learn to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, not because they are afraid to get punished. If they fear punishment, they will eventually learn to not get caught. If a kid doesn’t get caught, there is no authority. The other shortcoming is if the punishment is rejected as effective.
Fear of punishment is where all military authority comes from. Don’t mess up or you will have to do pushups, refuse the pushups and you will lose rank, continue to do wrong and you will be kicked out of the military. Sergeants and officers don’t have the ability to physically make a soldier do anything. If someone rejects the punishments, there is no power.
What good is it to send a kid to their room if their room has all kinds of fun stuff in it? How can you ground a kid for sneaking out when they already snuck out in the first place, what possible power could the punishment have?

Respect
The best form of authority is one where the child listens to on their own. Respect is one that takes the best aspects of other forms of authority and also doesn’t scar them for life. Instead of being superman the parent shows that they are competent, but unlike superman parenting the dad admits he doesn’t know everything. Teaching kids that it is okay to ask questions and get help is a valuable lesson. It is alright to say, “I don’t know.”
Every parent needs to punish, but the focus on respect parenting doesn’t rely on punishment to keep kids in line. Kids learn that no means no and will listen because they have respect for the parents. Respect is earned through more communication. When kids are old enough to understand the reasons for not getting their way can be explained. Respect is not earned by saying, “Because I said so.”

In the end, as parents we are not just trying to get through the toddler years, we want to establish a positive relationship with or kids for their whole lives. The best way is to have their respect. Which is the best way to establish a relationship with anyone.

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