Who are the happier campers in a workplace setting: the employees who (a) obey the rules, follow the procedures and voice any complaints respectfully so that the entire workplace is not disrupted, or (b) disobey the rules at every possible opportunity, deliberately fail to follow procedures and disrupt the workplace with frequent and often subversive complaints?
You answered (a), of course. And so it is with children. The happiest kids, so finds the best research (if interested, Google Diana Baumrind and Robert Larzelere), are those who obey parents and teachers, do what they are expected to do without lots of management, and voice complaints and disagreements respectfully.
Therefore, because happiness is a child’s right (because, for one, a child cannot learn the benefits of pursuing it unless he has first experienced it), teaching obedience and respect is a fundamental parental responsibility — the third, in fact, which comes after securing a child’s physical well-being and demonstrating unconditional love.
The question then becomes: How does a parent go about teaching obedience and respect? The answer is in four parts.
First, the parent acts like she knows what she is doing and knows that what she is doing is correct. This means, for example, that the parent does not need to consult with a 5-year-old to determine what foods are going to be on the child’s dinner plate. The parent is, in a word, decisive. She knows it is more important, generally, to be decisive than to always make the most perfectly correct decision (if there is even such a thing).
Second, the parent acts like she knows why she is doing what she is doing. She is guided by overarching principles, not whim or emotion. Therefore, she is consistent from decision to decision. The parent is, in a word, purposeful. Her purpose is to assist the child toward standing on his own two feet, to raise a compassionate and responsible citizen.
Third, the parent acts like she knows what she expects of the child, what she wants the child to do at any given point in time. In giving instructions, for example, she does not bend forward, grab her knees and speak to the child in a beseeching tone of voice. She does not offer reward for obedience or threaten punishment for disobedience. She simply tells, using as few words as possible and never, ever punctuates an instruction with a question mark. She communicates to the child that he will do what she tells him to do not because of reward or threat but simply because she tells. The parent, in five words, comes straight to the point.
Fourth, the parent acts like she knows the child is going to obey. After giving an instruction, she leaves the area (if at all possible). She does not stand there, waiting for obedience, because that is the equivalent of saying, “I don’t think you’re going to do what I just told you to do.” And that is definitely going to provoke push-back. The parent, in three words, communicates positive expectations.
Those four attributes define the effective delivery of authority regardless of setting. They define effective leadership, and effective parenting is a relatively simple matter of providing a child with equal measures of love and leadership.
How simple is that?
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions at his website, www.parentguru.com.