How can I be kind and firm to my child at the same time?
Some parents are kind, but not firm. Other parents are firm, but not kind. Still other parents vacillate between two extremes—at times being overly permissive and at others being overly authoritarian and dominating. Can kind and firm be possible?
How Being Kind and Firm Helps You and Your Child
When parents are only firm, without being kind (staying connected), children often respond with feeling resentment, rebellion, revenge or by retreating (withdrawing and not feeling confidence enough to take even positive risks in the future.) When parents are only firm, the message of love does not come through. By using kindness along with firmness, parents can convey love while setting limits and teaching new skills for the future.
When parents are only kind, they often aren’t setting limits for children and children often respond with feeling scared (because too much freedom is scary) or entitled that they should have everything they want. By being firm, parents can help children learn to accept limits and live within limits in life.
What Kindness is NOT
Using kindness does not mean to please or protect them from all disappointments, but it does mean that you will treat your children with respect. Treating your child with respect shows that you value your child’s sense of self and value the relationship above your child’s current behavior. When parents solve issues using kindness and firmness, children learn how true respect “works” in any relationship. Your child may feel anger or disappointment. Your child might stomp off, whine or yell.
Using kindness does not mean that your child will immediately accept the limit you are giving. Even when I’ve been kind and respectful while setting some type of limit, there have been plenty of times that my child has attempted to push the limit. This is normal. Kids will test limits and it’s part of healthy development for them to do so.
What does kind AND firm sound like in the real world? Take a look:
1. “I love you, AND the answer is no.”
Why it works: It’s always a great idea to start with love, which is why this is one of my favorite examples. Try to say this to your children calmly and genuinely—and be impeccable with your limits.
2. “I know you don’t want to stop playing, AND it is time for dinner.”
Why it works: The child’s feelings are first validated (which shows kindness) but the parent remains firm in her resolve. Perfect!
3. “You don’t want to brush your teeth, AND we’ll do it together. Want to race?”
Why it works: Rather than focusing on the rules, this approach focuses on the fun. Humor and games are great ways to take the focus off of rules, rules, rules.
4. “I can tell you don’t want to clean up your toys, AND what was our agreement?”
Why it works: If you’ve made an agreement and now your child is balking, remind her (kindly and quietly) of the terms. Keeping a cool demeanor will help minimize power struggles.
5. “You don’t want to go to bed, AND it is bedtime. Do you want one story or two stories as soon as your jammies are on?”
Why it works: This clever distraction from the issue at hand—bedtime—gives some power back to the child, who after all may be exhausted and more prone to big feelings when he’s tired.
It’s all about communicating in a consistent, calm & clear way and following through. It can take a while to get in the groove of kind-and-firm parenting—and we all have less-than-stellar moments. Keep trying, give yourself a pass when you miss the mark, and take time to congratulate yourself when you succeed.