Influence Rather Than Control
Parents have much greater power in relation to their children than most ever realize. But it’s the power of influence, not control. While you can’t make your child do a single thing, you have far greater influence than you might think.
The Source of Your Power
The source of your power in relation to your child is the emotional attachment (emotional bond) between you and your child. One biological mother and one biological father bring each and every child into this world. They constitute the first and strongest determinants of life or death, of love and security, or loss and insecurity for the newborn. (For many newborns surrogate or adoptive parents serve in this role.) Every newborn infant depends one hundred percent for his/her physical and emotional health on the ability of the parents–especially the mother. The newborn’s parents, or other parenting figures, give what is required for physical and emotional (and to a great extent intellectual) prosperity or doom.
The nature and quality of the emotional attachment (or bond) that all children form with their parents influences them throughout life, and at every stage of it, regardless of culture or setting. The following are some signs of the power of the parent-child emotional bond.
- Every child I have ever met-–no matter what their age–craves the love and approval of both of his/her parents.
- The love and approval given or withheld to children by parents greatly influences all other emotional attachments in their life.
- Parental acceptance and approval is like sunshine to the flower. It literally means emotional life or death, and even physical life or death, as in crib death.
- Parental rejection and disapproval is like a lumberjack to a tree. It destroys emotional life.
- No child I have ever met wants his/her parents to separate. Kids from broken marriages inevitably love each parent and wish they could have made it work.
- Love and hate are two sides of the same coin of emotional attachment. Even the rare child who hates a parent is profoundly attached emotionally to that parent.
- Children will do almost anything to gain their parents’ energy, love, and approval, even if it means do the wrong thing and getting parents mad at them. Sibling rivalry is a great example of this; the children want your energy, involvement, and judgement.
Why the Parent Must Change First.
Just as the parents are the creators of the child, and determine the quality of the child’s initial and deepest emotional bonds, the parents are by far the most powerful influences on the child’s first and deepest values and abilities. When parent-child conflicts develop, as they inevitably must, it is the parent who has the responsibility to make things right, and thus to be the first to change the nature of that conflict. The child can’t be expected to do so. She is simply not up to it. Consider these reasons why. As the parent you are automatically:
- Older, wiser
- Bigger, stronger
- Scarier, intimidating (men more so than women.)
- More experienced and knowledgeable
- More disciplined
- More powerful (you control the resources.)
- Better problem solvers
- More reliable. And the children rely on you much more than you rely on them.
- More independent
Children simply do not have the experience, insights, internal strengths, or abilities that their parents have. So they can’t be expected to think their way through relationship problems on their own like we expect adults to do. In addition, they learn to do these things by observing what their parents do and then imitating them. So the ball in the parent’s court when it comes to resolving parent-child conflicts.
Power = Influence, not Control.
In spite of the above reasons why the parent has so much power and must use it to create positive change in a stressed parent-child relationship, it is important to accept the fact that the parent’s great power does not mean that s/he can make the child do anything. If you agree with my “Volcano Theory” that each person’s thoughts and feelings motivate and determine their behavior at all times, you must conclude that parent can’t make their children change (such as being more obedient, doing chores or homework, eating peas, coming home on time, etc. For that matter, no human being can make any other human do anything. Any husband or wife will readily acknowledge this. Even in an extreme case, a man with a gun to my head has great power (influence) over me; but he cannot control me. I still choose my response. Many people have paid the ultimate price for their resistance in situations like this, and are often considered heroes or martyrs.
So control of another’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior is impossible, and parental power in relation to children equates with influence instead. Recognizing this difference will empower you to do accomplish things you have found impossible by yelling, threatening, and punishing in order to get your chid’s obedience. You will stop doing those things because they only invite what you do not want: the child’s resentment, resistance, stubbornness, and even outright defiance. This is a very empowering concept for you. If you take it to heart, it will empower you to be effective in gaining your child’s cooperation.
Using your power (influence)
Changing some of what you do will free your child from the power of past repetitive or habitual negative responses that you invite when you use your power to try to control. You free him/her to respond to you differently because you offer a different stimulus. In addition, even a small positive change on your part demonstrates how the child can act toward you and gives him a model for changing his own behavior. Thus, you show him how to do it right by doing it yourself in from of his very eyes. Arguing is a good example. If you decide not to argue, the child must change: he can’t argue with you because it takes two to argue. The moral here is: change yourself and your child must change.
At first, when you change, the child’s behavior might get worse. He will probably fall back on his old ways and try even harder to provoke you, as before. That’s because he doesn’t have the skills to do what you are now doing. He needs to watch you for quite a while, and learn to imitate what you are doing differently. He needs time to learn a new way of responding to the “new you.” Illustrate what you want by doing it.
Then give him time to learn some new responses. Chances are, he will make positive changes of his own accord.
3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model. Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.