Monday, November 05, 2007

Parenting Without Promoting Fear

When I was a boy I received a King Kong action figure for my birthday. At that time I really liked King Kong and this gift was very special. While playing with my toy I soon found out that my little brother (around 3 years old) was afraid of my King Kong doll. So like a good big brother I ran around the house scaring him by showing him the doll and by roaring like King Kong.

My brother, of course, would run and tell my parents. My parents would take my doll away and then give it back with the condition that I not scare my brother. This process happened many times. On one occasion they even told me that if I did it again they would burn my King Kong doll in the fireplace.

Well, I could not resist the temptation to scare my little brother one more time. I grabbed my toy and roared like King Kong once again and he started running and crying. But he did something that I will never forget this particular time. He ran as fast as he could right into my father's leg and hung on for dear life. He would not let go and we could not pry his hands off of my father's leg. This image has stayed with me over the years. It reminds me of what I and my brother have always known – that no matter what the circumstance my father would always protect us and keep us safe. We both knew that we could count on my father to love us unconditionally and be there for us.

What saddens me is that many times in our society kids are running away from their parents because they are afraid of them. I believe that our children should feel safe and loved at all times. I hope that they can always feel safe enough to run to their parents when they are in need. Unfortunately, this is not the case in many homes.

The reason is that we have been educated to use the wrong tools to deal with tension in our lives. When parents get upset with their children they may yell at them and criticize them. Then they may start to blame them and use threats. Eventually some parents will even hit their children or grab their ears or pinch them. These are all manifestations of power and control. Parents get upset with a child's behavior and resort to what society (parents, culture, media, etc.) has taught them - that it is okay to impose one's will on another by using our power.

The message many parents have received is that they need to use their power (size, strength, ability to intimidate, etc.) to control their children. Yet, these negative tools bring resentment, guilt, fear and shame into children's lives. Unfortunately, most children obey out of that negative energy. When children respond to us out of fear or guilt we will always pay for it later on.

Most parents do not want their children to clean their room or eat their vegetables because of fear of punishment or guilt but rather because they see the value in doing what they are being asked to do. For instance, good reasons would be that by cleaning their room brings order and beauty into their lives or that they can contribute to their parent's well being and desire to see order in the home.

So, what can parents do to promote love, compassion, respect, cooperation and understanding in their relationship with their children?

Parents can focus on their children's feelings and needs instead of focusing on the behavior that they dislike. When parents focus on the behavior that they dislike they begin to diagnose or evaluate the behavior and begin to think in terms of right and wrong. Then come the "they should" statements. When ever we are angry there is a "should" statement close by. These thoughts produce anger and when verbalized produce criticism which produces alienation and resentment.

But when we focus on the child's feelings and needs and ask, "What is my child feeling and needing?" we open the door to understanding why they are doing what they are doing. This very important information (the child's feelings and needs) helps us to empathize with our children and suggest something that not only meets our needs but also the needs of the child.

For example if a child does not want to come home because he is having too much fun playing in the playground we can ask ourselves, "What is he feeling and needing?" The question is easy to answer if we take time to consider their situation. The child may be feeling happy and excited and desiring to play more with his friends. So, when we realize this we can then ask the child, "Are you happy and excited because you are having fun playing?" The child will probably say, "Yes."

Then we can affirm his feelings and needs by saying, "That seems fun and if I was doing what you are doing I would want to play more too." The child's feelings and needs are validated and matter now. Then we can share our feelings and needs. We can say, "I feel concerned because I am needing punctuality and would like to be home on time for dinner. How about you play for 10 more minutes and then we go home?" There is a higher probability that the child will say "yes"and do it out of a giving energy instead of fear.

By focusing on our child's needs we stay connected to them in a way that serves life and builds connection with them. It produces a desire in them to want to run to us in their times of need rather than running away from us.

Note: Still wondering about what happened to my King Kong doll? It was taken away and burned in the fireplace. Bummer, huh?

Recommended Reading: Parenting From Your Heart by Inbal Kashtan

For more on communication click here.
PHOTO CAPTION: "Photo Courtesy"


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful and thought provoking (or reminding) post. I try to always parent in gentle ways.. though I admit, my boys try my patience some days.. and when I really look at their trying behavior, I realize it's because of what I am doing or not doing..

christin said...

I'm glad to see more people writing about this. It's so sad to hear such an overwhelming amount of people okay with spanking and extreme punishments because "I turned out alright". We forget that discipline is about education and building your children up not tearing them down so you have the upper hand and power. I wrote about this too on my site, please visit sometime...I'll be back to see what else you come up with.

Eddie Zacapa said...


Thanks for you comment and insight.

Eddie Zacapa said...


Thanks for your comment. I totally agree. discipline is about education and building children up. To bad some pants don't really understand this.