There is a difference between wanting to know the limits of another person’s acceptance and of having another person set a limit on one’s self. The difference is where the power lies. If we enforce our own limits, we exhibit self-control and encourage and enable our children to do the same. When we attempt to limit another person, we are attempting to control them; that in itself is both impossible and unhealthy.
Yelling, hitting, threatening…..When our children do these things, parents refer to it as temper tantrums. When parents do these things, those same people refer to it as discipline. The fact of the matter is, they are both the same thing – a call for help. When a person feels overwhelmed or frustrated, they feel out of control. They have a need for some help but they don’t know how to deal with it or communicate it. Hence, the temper tantrum, whether by a child or adult, occurs.
When our children throw a temper tantrum, we generally have the maturity and coping skills to help them through it. We recognize what is happening and can work with them to find a solution to what the real problem is – whether they have a physical need which isn’t being met, such as hunger, fatigue, or something else, or an emotional need such as expressing their emotions or needing to feel connected in order to feel loved and cared for. We can help our children as they learn to communicate their thoughts and emotions.
Unfortunately, our children do not have the same maturity and coping skills. When we cry out for help, they aren’t capable of giving that to us and the frustration and disconnect we feel doesn’t get any better. We are at a loss and if we don’t change something, we continue down the same path.
It is impossible to control another person. The only person we can control is ourself. So, if the situation isn’t going well, then we need to change something about the situation in order to cut down on our frustration (or whatever else we are feeling) so that we can get control over ourselves again. Rather than thinking about how we can control someone else, we can focus on how to bring control for everyone back by bringing control to the situation. A really good way to break the cycle, give yourself a break, and get the situation going in a better direction is to do something to reconnect with your child – totally different than what you may feel like – but it’s really what everyone needs. When we are connected with our children, everyone is more willing to work with each other. When there is disconnect, everything gets out of whack.
Adults utilize many different methods in order to control the behavior of children, whether through punishments or rewards, in an attempt to have what they deem are respectful and well-behaved kids. What I think many of them fail to realize is that one can only truly control one’s own actions. We can never completely control another person’s actions. Sometimes we can create the illusion of controlling someone, but it’s never true control. Every person has the ability to make their own decisions, and while some will choose to humor you or feign compliance in order to avoid punishments or receive rewards which they feel justify the actions, they are still in control of themselves.
By attempting to control another’s behavior through extrinsic forces, there is a false dichotomy of control, and in it, no one has total control. My husband and I do not use punishments or rewards with our children. We talk to our kids. We listen to them. We discuss with them how our actions, words, and decisions affect ourselves and other people. We model appropriate behavior. In the end, the choices they make are theirs, whether or not we, as adults, acknowledge that fact. I would much rather my children do something because they have thought about it and decided it is right for them, than to react to someone else’s attempt at controlling them.
At the end of the day, when our children are all grown, we all want them to make the decisions that are right for them rather than doing whatever someone tells them to do. Just because someone says to jump off a bridge doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. If children are never allowed to make their own decisions in an environment where they have a loving parent to bounce ideas off of and who is there to help them, how will they fair when suddenly they have to make decisions on their own without having done so before?