This may cause great dismay among parents everywhere, but it's a fact: No matter what your child's age, no matter how hard you try, no matter what disciplinary techniques you use, you cannot control your child. If you try to control your child, you'll only become frustrated and stressed-out, and you'll create more problems than you solve, if you manage to solve any at all. The only thing you can effectively control is your relationship with your child. In this regard, there are three kinds of parents.
1. Parents who try to control their children. These parents -- termed authoritarian -- are dictatorial and rigidly restrictive. Because they are attempting to do the impossible, and because they do not accept children for what they are, authoritarian parents are frequently angry and frustrated, and they almost always overdiscipline, using a hammer when they could have used a fly swatter.
2. Parents who fail to control their relationships with their children. These parents are often termed "permissive." I prefer wimp. They try to be friends with their children, let their children make decisions they're incapable of making, try to keep their children happy, compromise and capitulate in the face of conflict, and are generally at their children's beck and call.
3. Parents who make no attempt to control their children but are in complete control of their relationships with their children. These parents are authoritative. They make rules and enforce them dispassionately. They supervise well but are not highly involved with their kids. They describe their own boundaries to their children, thus helping their children learn to stand on their own two feet. They care deeply for their kids, but they don't care what their kids think of them at any given moment. They understand that one cannot both lead and fraternize, that it's either one or the other.
Most unfortunately, the majority of today's parents fall into one of the first two categories. In both cases, we're talking about parents who are ruled by emotion. The authoritarian parent is ruled by frustration and anger, the permissive parent by anxiety and guilt. The authoritative parent, by contrast, rules. He is not in the sway of emotion, but neither is he unemotional. Quite the contrary, because he understands and accepts children for what they are (as opposed to having either unrealistic expectations or a sentimental perspective), he is capable of showing his children more love and compassion than either of his hyper emotional counterparts -- and it is the showing that counts.
"Can you give us some concrete examples of trying to control one's relationship with a child vs. simply controlling?"
Sure. The authoritative parent, for example, realizes that (a) while he cannot make a 4-year-old share toys with playmates (sharing, by definition, is not compelled), he can confiscate those toys the youngster refuses to share; (b) while he can't prevent a 10-year-old from misbehaving in school, he can revoke privileges at home, and (c) while he can't make a teen-ager get good grades, he can refuse to let the youngster get a driver's license until grades improve.
In each case, the parent controls circumstances in the child's life, thereby controlling the parent-child relationship. In no case does the parent get bent out of shape. He also knows that regardless of what he does, the child in question may not change his or her behavior. He is simply resolved to teach the child that choices result in consequences. Whether the child "gets the message" is not a simple matter of how well he teaches. It is also a matter of how willing the child is to learn, which is what is meant by children have minds of their own.
Questions of general interest may be sent to John Rosemond at P.O. Box 4124, Gastonia, N.C. 28054 and at http://www.rosemond.com/parenting on the World Wide Web.
If you or someone you know has parenting problems, call the Parents Anonymous 24-hour confidential Help-Line at 892-2172.