Actress Charlize Theron recently caused a media stir when she wrestled her adopted 4-year-old son Jackson to the ground when he began throwing a public tantrum. For this, Theron was labeled a "monster mom" and generally raked over the coals of parenting correctness by the media.
When photographs of Theron subduing Jackson went viral, the media sought comment from Dr. Gilda Carle - a therapist who bills herself as "Relationship Expert to the Stars." Carle opined, "It's clear that Charlize is dictating. Instead of telling him, she should be selling him. ... My concern is for parents to ask the child 'why?' after (a tantrum) is over."
Carle believes in what I call egalitarian parenting, also known as the same-old, same-old dumb and dysfunctional parenting that the mental health community has been promoting since 1965.
Egalitarian parenting proposes that the parent-child relationship is a relationship between equals. As such, parents are obligated to explain themselves to their children, persuade rather than dictate, and negotiate conflict. It is because of egalitarian parenting propaganda that so many of today's parents, when they give instructions or convey decisions to their children, grab their thighs and do a deep knee-bend, thus "getting down to their children's level."
Carle is obviously disturbed by the fact that Theron took immediate control of her child when the tantrum began. Photographs of the incident along with first-person accounts confirm that when Jackson began his defiant fit, Theron did not soothe, console, counsel or try to persuade with promise of reward. She simply took over. Good for her!
Contrary to Carle's advice, parents should most definitely tell children what to do as opposed to trying to sell them on it. Authority is not about persuasion; it's about communicating expectations unequivocally. That describes what I call leadership speech - a manner of communicating that reflects confidence in the legitimacy of one's authority; in this case, the legitimate authority of a responsible parent over a child. Leadership speech is calm, composed and straight to the point (using the fewest words possible without explanation). No one recorded what Theron said to Jackson, but one thing is certain: She made it clear to him that he had no choice but to do what she was telling him to do. Her actions were appropriate to the situation.
As for Carle's advice to parents that they ask their children "why?" after a tantrum is over, she is wrong again. That approach only serves to give validity to a tantrum. It suggests that there was a legitimate reason for the child's explosion, when in fact there is never a legitimate reason. Besides, there is but one explanation for a tantrum: Parent does not obey child.
My hat comes off to Theron. In that tumultuous moment during Jackson's defiant fit, she realized she had to demonstrate that she was the decider, the authority figure, the big person, the final word on the subject - not him. She should consider becoming "Parenting Coach to the Stars."
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his websites, johnrosemond.com and parentguru.com.