I was recently talking to a mum who said, “My husband says I’m not strict enough. I’m letting the children run rings around me.
“He said, ‘When we were small and our parents told us to do something, we did it. We should be stricter.’ And the thing is, Oona, when he is strict with the children, I see it not working. And I see things escalating. But I worry that maybe I should be being stricter – what do you think?”
Watch the video or scroll down to read more…
I hear this question, or a variation of it, quite often. And it’s one that I had myself when my son was younger. I remember my aunt telling me, in no uncertain terms, that I should definitely be stricter. And my son’s swimming teacher, too.
Is there someone in your life who tells you that you should be being stricter with the children?
I want to help you with this today, because when we’ve got worries about these kinds of things, they occupy mental space. If we’re questioning ourselves all the time, it can make it more difficult to be there for the children and to handle the situation that’s in front of us effectively. It even makes it more difficult and to enjoy our life.
Let’s consider strictness now.
There can be definite advantages to it and that’s why people advocate it. When we are truly strict, what we call ‘bad’ behaviour will vanish and you will get children to do things. But there is a great cost to it.
And the greatest cost is that strictness overrides emotions. You lose the opportunity to help your child learn how to self-regulate when you use strictness, because strictness is about the result. Isn’t it? It’s not about the process and what the child’s going through.
And this is why I don’t recommend strictness.
With strictness, we skip over that step of showing our child understanding, showing them kindness, and helping them develop a healthy way of dealing with difficult emotions. We skip over the step of meeting them with kindness and with understanding.
And I believe this is one of the most profound gifts we can give our children – to show them how difficult feelings can be met with kindness.
And a well self-regulated person is someone who will have a successful life, because they’re not being pulled hither and thither by negative and harsh inner voices.
So, if you’re currently feeling you might need to bring in more strictness, I believe it’s not actually strictness, but something else that you need.
What will help is to to bring more firmness into your life with your children. Here are three signs that your children might need more firmness:
- First of all, if you’re avoiding saying things to your children or avoiding setting limits, because it’s uncomfortable for you when your children express difficult feelings – when they resist or when they react – then that’s a sign that perhaps you need more firmness.
- Secondly, if your child is doing dangerous things repeatedly, like pushing, running off, hitting – things like that – that could be another sign that more firmness is needed.
- And the third sign is that when your child is unhappy with something – when they have a little meltdown or they react, or they express disappointment or anger – it brings you to question yourself. You feel, “Oh no, they’re not happy. What did I do wrong?”
These scenarios are a sign that you might be lacking a bit of firmness because your child really needs to feel that you’ve got a firm “no” in your back pocket.
And, actually, they need to feel unhappy with some of your decisions. Not that you would make decisions in order to make them unhappy – that would be cruel and ludicrous – but some of your decisions are bound to make them unhappy. And if they’re not, then that’s a sign that you need more firmness.
When your children has the opportunity to have a big feeling about something that you say, or something that you decided, it means that they can relax into your leadership. They feel, and they know, that you are in charge, and that’s actually very comforting for your child.
They don’t want to be in charge. They may seem to want to be in charge, but actually it feels too big and too powerful to be in control of their own lives. They need a little bit of control, that’s important – but not too much.
If any of these scenarios resonate for you, what I recommend is more firmness with kindness. They need to go hand in hand and then your child will feel guided. They’ll feel led by you. At the same time, they’ll feel understood, and that’s immensely powerful.
I call this process Kind Containment, and there are three steps that I’ve identified that really help this work, for your children and for you, as well your family life.
Showing understanding for whatever’s going on for your child: connecting with them.
And the most wonderful way you can do this is by empathising with their point of view, whatever is going on for them. You might say something like, “I know you wouldn’t have done that if you hadn’t been very angry with your brother.”
Your child feels that although you may be setting a limit, you understand them.
Express your point of view – “…but I don’t want you to hit your brother.”
Problem solving – where you work it out, finding a win-win solution together.
You might say, “So, how can we carry on with playing so that both of you get to play with something and can have fun with what you’re doing?”
And then you work it out.
By involving your child, you give them that little bit of control that I mentioned.
And you can read more about this process of Kind Containment in my free guide, Solve the Struggle With Your Kids, which you can get by clicking on the link below. If you haven’t downloaded that I really recommend it. You’ll get the overview of how you can use this approach.
I hope that clears up any niggling worries you may have about strictness and gives you a way forward that that feels right and good for you.
Solve the Struggle with Your Kids
The 6 Wise Parenting Powers
Download my no cost guide to raising a secure and happy family.