Ways to Show Love

Although parents love their kids, they don’t always feel the love in a parenting moment. In fact, parents often feel irritation, upset, fear and distress in the midst of parenting. However, when the kids are asleep in bed, parents look at their angelic faces and feel a surge of affection and adoration. They really love them!

It is crucial for a child’s healthy development that he or she actually feels loved. It’s not enough that parents love their children – they have to successfully convey this love in order for the kids to benefit from it.

What are some effective ways for parents to show love and affection to their children? Consider these five tips:

Attend to Basic Needs
Meeting a child’s basic needs doesn’t in and of itself, make a child feel loved. However, neglecting such needs is a quick way to make a child feel unloved. Basic needs include things like keeping a tidy house (tidy enough – not compulsively tidy), serving good-tasting and nutritious meals, and providing appropriate, attractive and clean clothing). In order to meet the child’s needs, the CHILD needs to feel that the house is tidy enough, the food is good enough and the clothing is suitable and available. It’s usually easy enough to attend to a child’s basic needs in this way, but if there is some difficulty, don’t underestimate its potential impact. Failure to meet basic needs can leave life-long scars.

Provide a Home Where Love Abounds
Home is a place for the family to create positive memories — so make sure your home is conducive to happy ones! Minimize criticism and anger. Try to parent without raising your voice (read Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice, by Sarah Chana Radcliffe). Give LOTS of positive feedback, use humor to lighten things up, listen empathically, offer treats and privileges generously and use positive methods of discipline. Take parenting courses in person or on-line to give yourself extra skills and options.

Be Generous With the Hugs and Kisses
Words are powerful, but so are non-verbal ways of expressing love and affection. So don’t be shy! Give your children a hug when they wake up, as they leave for school, upon coming home and as they get ready for bed. Kiss them when they are hurt, sick, happy or sad. Hugs and kisses are simple and free ways of communicating that you care. Pats, tickles and gentle touch are good at any time – as long as the child enjoys it. If the child is laughing when be tickled but saying “stop!” then the parent should stop immediately. Similarly, if the child finds touch pleasant – go for it, but if the child says “I don’t like it” then the parent has to refrain from this way of conveying love. There’s lots of other ways to give this message over.

Love Your Children Unconditionally
Newsflash: parenting can be a rocky terrain sometimes. There will be times when your children will hurt you, disappoint you, anger you and/or make you miserable. Take heart, mistakes and rebellion are parts of growing up. From bad choices, kids can become better people. What is important is that parents remain consistent in showing their love and affection. Remember, these are also the times when your kids need you the most. Be patient, go slowly, don’t try to educate your child when you are feeling very upset, shocked or enraged – wait until you’re calm enough to provide truly helpful guidance. This is a powerful way of showing love and one that your grownup child will recall forever with affection and appreciation.

Show Encouragement
Take an interest in what your child is doing: hobbies, talents, even weaknesses and problem areas. Helping a kid develop skills, address problems and experience success, are all signs of loving and caring. We’ve all read those biographies of outstanding persons in which they write, “my mother always believed in me, ” or “my father taught me everything I know” and so on. Whether it means hiring a tutor, signing up for classes, bringing books home from the library, or helping your child personally, every act of parental involvement is an act of love.

Work On Yourself and Your Marriage
Parents show love to their children by becoming the best they can be. When a child sees that a parent has an anger problem, drinking problem, weight problem, depression problem or any other personal challenge, AND sees that the parent works hard to overcome and heal the problem, the child experiences this as a form of caring. The opposite situation, in which a parent has an addiction issue, anger issue etc., and DOESN’T work hard to overcome it, is experienced as a form of neglect by the child. The child feels as if the parent doesn’t care enough about him or her in order to address serious challenges. The same dynamic is true of the parent’s marriage. When parents have a troubled marriage and DON’T go to marriage counseling or otherwise take steps to improve the situation, the child feels like the parents don’t care enough to make the home a better place. On the other hand, when parents work hard to overcome their relationship difficulties, children experience their effort as an act of love for the family.

Difficult Spouse

Like difficult children, difficult spouses may be rigid, over-sensitive, explosive, stubborn and more. This makes them challenging to get along with and one has to be a very skilled communicator in order to bring out the best in such a partner and minimize conflict. Although a difficult spouse’s personality presents certain predictable challenges in marriage, it also creates certain predictable challenges in parenting.

Here are just some problems that you may encounter with your spouse as a parent:

  • Your spouse has a tendency to spoil your children. A spouse who spoils the kids can be frustrating to deal with. He or she harms the children directly by overindulging them, refusing to establish appropriate limits and/or failing to establish healthy boundaries. In addition, such a spouse can harm the marriage as he or she contradicts the parenting rules you try to put in place and thereby aligns him or herself with the children rather than with you. In this way, the spoiling spouse diminishes your authority as a parent, causing real harm to your children through the process of “triangulation” (setting kids against the other parent).
  • Your spouse is too strict. Sometimes the opposite is true; your spouse establishes so much control in the family that there is barely room to breathe! Parenting should be a balance of love and authority, and rules must be flexible enough to accommodate the family’s changing needs. If your spouse tend to be too closed-minded, inflexible, rule-oriented and stern, he or she can alienate you and the children in one sweep.
  • Your spouse has to be right about everything. Marriage requires give-and-take as well as flexibility and the ability to compromise. Some difficult adults are simply too rigid and righteous to negotiate about parenting issues or anything else. Such a spouse provides a poor model of respectful negotiation for the children to emulate. Instead, the youngsters see an immature, controlling parent who cannot see another person’s point of view.
  • Your spouse is overly-dependent on you for decision-making. It’s great to be relied upon, but not for everything! When a partner refuses to step up to the plate to make decisions and take responsibility, you are left raising a family on your own. It’s not fair and its maddening. And watch out – the abstaining spouse may even accuse you of making poor decisions and being to blame for the children’s problems!
  • Your spouse is too critical. Getting constructive feedback from your spouse can be helpful. However, some spouses have a tendency to criticize everything you do. Whether your spouse claims that you are not feeding the kids the right kind of food, buying the right kind of clothing, or putting the kids to bed correctly, it feels like nothing but complaints.

What can you do when you have a difficult spouse?

Improve Your Own Communication and Relationship Skills
Just like a parent has to be highly skilled in order to raise a difficult child, a spouse has to be highly skilled in order to deal effectively with a difficult partner. Read marriage books or take marriage classes. Use the same excellent skills you’ve acquired in parenting to reduce defensiveness and encourage spousal cooperation. Use plenty of positive techniques like praise, acknowledgment, and empathy. Limit criticism and correction and eliminate anger. All of this will help your difficult spouse be more open to your suggestions and help in parenting and in every other area of marriage.

Consult a Third Party
Let a parenting expert guide you and your spouse together in creating your parenting plans. This can help avoid conflict over parenting issues and facilitate decision-making. When a neutral third party makes a suggestion, it is easier for your spouse to follow than when you make a suggestion (even if it’s exactly the same suggestion!).

Consult a Marriage Counselor
You aren’t the best one to teach your spouse how to behave. If you want him or her to provide a healthier model for your kids and to be a more pleasant person for you to live with, let a marriage counselor help out. Marriage counselors have the training and know-how to help people make significant changes in the way they behave as spouses. Your difficult spouse can become an easier spouse after a number of months of marriage counseling. Do not send your difficult spouse for individual counseling since the counselor will lack the necessary information (i.e. YOUR point of view) to truly help your spouse.

New Spouse Lacks Experience with Children

You’ve remarried after a death, divorce or a separation. But what if your new spouse is not a parent? Can you still rely on him or her to help you take care of your children from a previous marriage?

Of course! In fact, your new spouse’s lack of experience may help bring in a fresh and unbiased perspective to your daily child-rearing tasks. Keep in mind that many excellent school teachers don’t yet have kids of their own. What they have, however, is a love of children. If your new partner is the nurturing type, looking forward to developing a relationship with your kids, he or she can be very successful in the parenting role. However, there are challenges in being an experienced parent living with an inexperienced, non-biological parent. A biological parent is often more “forgiving” than an outsider, tending to overlook certain obnoxious behaviors of one’s own kids. Outsiders see these behaviors more clearly and often have less tolerance for them. A biogical parent may be more protective of his or her kids as well, worrying about hurting their fragile egos. Outsiders may be tougher on kids, expecting them to be able to withstand more. Biological parents may put up with more disrespect, accepting it in the give and take of a loving relationship. Outsiders can be shocked and dismayed at the rude behavior of children, refusing to tolerate even a fraction of it. All of these common issues can lead to conflict between new spouses in the reconstituted family.

To avoid parenting problems with your non-parent partner, consider the following:

Everyone Has a Nurturing Side
The fact that your spouse hasn’t been a parent doesn’t mean that he or she lacks parenting skills. As a son or a daughter, your spouse has opinions and values regarding family life. He or she may also have had practicum training in child-rearing as an aunt, uncle, babysitter, tutor or cousin or perhaps in a career working with kids.  Don’t discount what your new spouse can bring to the table. Remember, you were a newbie once too and you did alright!

Just be Patient — Cut some Slack!
Don’t underestimate your new spouse’s skills, but also accept that an adjustment period is expected. Making the transition from single to parent is hard on anyone. If your kids are little people already (older than a year or two), the task of becoming a parent is all the more challenging. There is no time to grow slowly into the role as natural parents do. It’s a crash course – with lots of expected crashes.

Sit down and share with your spouse all you know. Give them a copy of the book Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice as well as other resources. Employ the services of a professional counselor or parent educator to guide the two of you through parenting issues (it’s usually easier on your partner than having YOU be the “expert”). Support him or her as he finds his way around discipline issues, love and affection, and perhaps even being a breadwinner. Schedule quality family time, so that your spouse can get to know your children better. Let your kids know that, despite being a new parent, their new step-mom or dad is eager to learn — and cares for them very much. In no time a new system will form, and your spouse will feel more at home with his new role in your family.

Negotiate Your Spouse’s New Role
A step parent is a special kind of parent, and understandably has a non-traditional parenting role to play. If your ex-spouse is still alive, and still plays an active role in your children’s life, your new spouse need not assume all parenting duties in your home. He or she is not a replacement for your children’s real parent, and may in fact play an important but primarily supportive role.

Perhaps he or she can be more like a loving aunt or uncle. There’s nothing wrong with taking a backseat in a blended family structure. It’s certainly helpful if you,  your new spouse and your ex are all on the same page regarding the kind of family you want to raise, and the kind of parenting style you want to employ.

What to Call a Step-Parent

Children know that they have one mother and one father. Step-parents are parents who are “stepping in” as parents – people who are taking on a parental role in the child’s life. Nonetheless, they are not exactly the same as parents. Biological parents and children who have lost parents to death or divorce, can be quite sensitive about who is called what. For instance, the child’s biological mother can be upset if she hears her child call her ex-husband’s new wife “Mommy” when she is the one who is called “Mommy.” Similarly, children don’t necessarily want to call anyone else “Mommy” when they are calling or have called their own mother “Mommy.” Even if their mother is no longer alive, they may want to honor her memory by refusing to call anyone else by her name.

So how should a child address a step-parent?

Avoid Using First Names
First, let’s remember that a parent or any adult who is in the parental position – that is, an adult who is living in the house with a child – is an adult who needs to be respected. The adult is not a peer of a 5 year-old child or even a 15 year-old child. The adult and child are not “buddies.” Nor is the adult only the marital partner of the parent. In fact, the adult is taking care of the child, providing for the child’s needs, modelling healthy adulthood, and providing guidance. Calling a person in this position by his or her first name diminishes the role of the caregiver. It is healthier for a child to look up to an adult. Calling the adult by some appropriate title helps to remind the child of his or her position relative to the new caregiver: the adult is a teacher/protector/in charge person who is raising the child, whereas the child is a ‘student,’ a younger person being raised. The child can call the adult by a parent-like name. It doesn’t have to be “Mommy” or “Daddy.” It can be “Ma, ” “Momsy,” “Mom”  or “Pop,”  “Dad,” or “Pa.” It can even be a parental term from a different language or culture. Some people are most comfortable using a parental name as a title, such as “Mommy Carol,” or “Daddy Paul.” This strategy is often more palatable for kids who are not ready to fully acknowledge and accept a new parent figure.

Discuss Possibilities with Your Child
Parents should sit down with a child and explain that the new person is not replacing a biological parent. Rather, the new person is Mommy or Daddy’s new spouse and will be looking after the children in the house alongside Mommy or Daddy. Thus the new person is a sort of parent and as such, needs to be called by a parent-type name. The children can be invited to suggest names they would be comfortable using. The new parent can also make suggestions as to what he or she would like to be called. However, it is in the new parent’s best interest NOT to be lenient and invite the kids to call him or her by a first name. The new parent will soon discover that he or she needs the status and authority of a parent when living in the house with children.

Time for Children After Divorce

Visitation arrangements don’t always give kids the opportunity to see each parent 50% of the time. Practical considerations often make equal division of visitation impossible. For instance, in some cases, one parent works longer hours than the other. Or, one parent lives in a different state or country and the child must attend school for 10 months of the year in one location. Sometimes, there are different reasons for unequal visitation, such as financial considerations or a past history of abuse or the fact that a parent travels for work reasons. Whatever the cause of the discrepancy, children can feel the pain of loss. They usually love both parents and want to see each of them on a frequent, regular and consistent basis.

What is the best way for children to get enough time with each parent after a divorce or separation? Consider the following tips:

Consult a Parenting Coordinator
Even after the legalities have been settled, parents can sometimes modify arrangements in order to meet the changing needs of their growing children. If you don’t have a great working relationship with an ex-partner, then try to enlist the services of a professional parenting co-ordinator in order to find creative ways to add minutes or hours to visitations with kids. These may involve doing a carpool, taking a child to a swimming lesson, meeting the child at religious services or any number of other ways to see each other just a little more often. Of course, as the child gets older, more dramatic changes in visitation may become appropriate as well and can sometimes be negotiated legally.

Improve the Quality of Time Spent Together
The feeling of “not enough time” does not always relate to the actual amount of time a child gets to spend with a parent. Although it certainly helps to have more actual minutes and hours, it is even more important to have more quality time with a child, time in which there is meaningful interaction. While outings to amusement parks, movies and restaurants may be fun, direct interaction is more “filling.” Children need to see their parents in natural settings (at home doing the laundry, in the grocery store doing the weekly shopping, in the kitchen cooking). While “life is happening” they need to be able to share stories, ask questions, do their own version of “show and tell.” In fact, a child can get to know a parent better if they work on a household chore together rather than if they both sit passively watching a movie. So plan the interaction, not the destination!

Utilize Technology to Create More Involvement
If a child feels that he or she is not getting enough time with a parent, then consider tapping technology to encourage more parental involvement — even across the miles. For instance, a child can consult parents about homework through chats, or include them in a birthday celebration via web cam. Telephones can be used liberally for quick contacts. Old fashioned communication strategies like sending letters and pictures via regular mail, can be used to keep up the relationship. Depending on the age of the child, cell phones can be used in addition to computers to faciliate messenging and email correspondence. Children who know that they can reach their parents easily don’t suffer from intense “cravings” for contact. For instance, when a person knows he can have a sweet treat if he wants it, he doesn’t feel so deprived and he doesn’t need it so urgently. Similarly, a child who can easily reach either parent doesn’t feel deprived or “starving” for contact.

How to Love Your Partner’s Children

If you want your re-marriage to work well, you will have to love your new spouse AND your new spouse’s kids. Many stepparents will testify that this is easier said than done. Loving someone’s else’s children can be hard. While one usually has an instinct to love one’s own children, this instinct does not apply to other people’s kids. When your own children misbehave, you may not like them but you still love them. However, when your spouse’s children misbehave, you just don’t like them.

Fortunately, it’s possible for a sincere and determined step-parent to learn how to love, or at least almost love, his or her spouse’s children. Here are some tips on how to do it:

Decide to Love
Start by making a conscious decision to love your stepchildren. After all, they are part of the man or woman you married; in a sense, they are an extension of your new spouse. Your spouse loves his or her children intensely; by caring deeply for your spouse’s children, you are able to convey deep caring for your spouse. Your new spouse will love you all the more for loving his or her kids.

Reaching out is YOUR job – not the children’s. It’s tempting to say that kids should be the ones to welcome a new parent into their home. But remember, that after going through a divorce and remarriage, children are very stressed. They’ve experienced many changes that they did not even choose. So be patient if they are awkward, aloof or even rebellious. As the mature adult, you should be the one to reach out to them to make them feel safe, comfortable and cared for.

Get to Know Them Better
If you want to learn to love a person, you should start by getting to know them better. Ask your spouse about their likes and dislikes, what makes them excited, scared or frustrated. Better yet, spend frequent quality time with them, so that you can come to know who they really are, and they can get to know you too.

Establish Rapport
It’s unrealistic to expect immediate closeness, so aim for the next best thing: rapport. Exert the effort to make your stepchildren comfortable around you. Talk about everyday stuff, things kids are interested in like music, school or TV shows. Find out what their favorite food is and prepare it. Joke around. Show interest in their latest projects and activities. Compliment them on their new toy or dress. If possible, get to know their friends and classmates or at least recognize the names of the important players in their lives. Love can spring from routine companionship and friendship, so don’t feel like you have to rush! Over time, feelings will grow.

Understand Your Role
Many step-parents make the mistake of expecting to be loved just like a biological parent. But it’s unreasonable to expect step kids to love you as they love their own mother or father — blood is thicker than water! Try not to feel resentful if there are particular boundaries your step child does not cross with you. Maybe you will never be in their complete confidence. Maybe they will never put beside their natural parent. But you can still be a trusted and reliable member of their inner circle. Love has many faces; if you don’t try to force love to look the way you expect it to or want it to, you may discover a new, delightful way to experience it with your spouse’s children.

Disciplining Step-Children

Step-parents walk on a tightrope. On one hand, they are second parents – and in cases when the real parent can’t play a major role in their child’s life, they function as primary guardians. On the other hand, step-parents can never assume full parental status. A step parent would never (and shouldn’t!) take the place of a child’s real mother or father. Yet, children misbehave around step-parents just like they do around biological parents. While the parent is free to discipline and is even obligated to do so as part of his and her parental responsibility to guide a child in the proper way, step-parents are not completely free to discipline. There are limits and restrictions for step-parents, depending on many different factors. The spouse’s personality and wishes, the presence and level of involvement of natural parents, and the ages of the children in question are some of the factors that will determine what forms (if any) of discipline can be used by the step-parent.

To avoid unnecessary conflict, upset and confusion in the matter of disciplining step-children, consider the following tips:

Get Support from Your Spouse
If you’re a step-parent, use your ally in the house — your spouse! Before enforcing any discipline strategy, sit down with your husband or wife. Get a consensus regarding rules in the household, as well as a list of justified consequences for breaking the rules. Make sure your spouse is the one who communicates these rules and consequences to his or her child. If your step child can see that the discipline strategy is not just your idea and in fact, you and his natural parent are on one team, he or she will more likely be less defiant and more cooperative.

Do Not Negate Nor Badmouth Your Spouse’s Ex
It’s hard to take a stepchild to task on something his or her own biological parent allows. To do so is to create competition between you and your spouse’s ex, a face-off that you will always lose. Rule of thumb: if the discipline issue is not a huge matter — that is, you can afford to let it go — then let it go. If you really must enforce a new rule, clarify that you only expect compliance from your stepchild while in your presence or your home. Give the child explicit permission to follow the rules in the other parent’s home, so that the child does not feel internal conflict.

Bond with Your Spouse’s Ex
If it’s possible, get to know and work with your spouse’s ex as part of the extended parenting team. You and your spouse’s ex both have the children’s best interests at heart; the more everyone is on the same page, the easier it is for both parents and kids. At best, you can level off on the parenting values that you both share, and may even learn a thing or two from each other. If you have a good rapport with your spouse’s ex, you may also simply refer discipline issues to them.

Employ Positive Parenting Strategies
Disciplining step-children using negative consequences is risky unless they are very young. In a way, it’s tantamount to punishing someone you didn’t earn the right to “punish.” If you must discipline a step child, employ positive parenting strategies, such as the CLeaR Method (see, Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe), rewards and  positive feedback. This way, a child is less likely to feel resentful of your intervention.

Befriend Your Step-Children
Discipline has one goal: behavior change. But remember that there is more than one way towards change. Being a confidant or advisor is a good, stress-free ways to influence stepchildren. By building your relationship with your step-kids, you automatically enhance your “parenting power” – that is, the power to influence the children. This is especially important when the step-kids are teens.

Parent is Too Lenient

We love our children, which is why we want to protect them from everything that feels bad – even from the consequences of their own actions. It is out of compassion and love that we sometimes neglect to discipline our youngsters. However, permissiveness can tend to backfire. Kids need firm guidance and adequate parental control (especially on issues involving appropriate behavior, safety, health and emotional well-being) in order to grow into healthy and mature individuals.

What are the signs that a parent is being too lenient with a child? Consider the following:

You Don’t Set Rules
Rules are important in any household. Not only do rules help prevent arguments and conflict (i.e. a rule that says that sweets are given only AFTER dinner helps stop children from begging for candy at all times of the day), they also set limits (i.e. candy is not being offered all day!). Limits imposed from the outside can help children learn to set their own limits eventually. For instance, having a few simple rules like “homework must be finished before T.V. or computer time,” “teeth must be brushed morning and night,” “sugar cereal is only eaten on weekends” and so on, can help children develop healthy habits for a lifetime. What starts off as a rule can eventually becomes a way of life.

You Don’t Implement Rules
You’re a lenient or permissive parent if you’re all talk and no action. Rules in a household are only good to the extent that they are implemented. If children do not see a consistent consequence for misbehavior, they are less likely to comply with rules. The first time a rule is broken, explain what the consequence will be for future infractions. When it is broken a second time (and from then on), be sure to implement the consequence. If they child continues to break the rule, this means that your selected consequence is ineffective. After using it three or four times without seeing improvement, select a different consequence and see whether the child is now observing the rule. Continue experimenting with consequences (give each one a trial of 3 or 4 times) until you find “the right priced ticket.” You can find more information on effective discipline in Raising Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.

You Grant Your Children Age-Inappropriate Liberties
Parenting is not just about setting and implementing rules, it’s also about giving your children enough space in order to explore their identity and develop their independence. But note that there are age-appropriate freedoms, and freedoms that have to be curtailed because children have yet to develop the maturity to handle responsibility. You don’t hand your pre-teen an unlimited credit line, you do not ask your 10 year to decide whether he or she wants to go to the doctor or not, nor do you encourage your 12-year old to engage in an active sexual lifestyle – unless you have a poor sense of age-appropriate activities. A lenient parent is one who is not prepared to say “no” when viritually all other parents of a child of that age would have no trouble doing so.

You Give in to All of Your Child’s Requests
Lenient parents can’t say “no.” They give their child whatever he or she wants no matter the cost. It doesn’t matter if they child already has an excess of the item or if the child has no need for the item – if the child wants it, he or she gets it. The lenient parent hates to disappoint a child and tries very hard not to, even when saying “yes” is detrimental to the child’s development.

Overcoming Leniency
Attending a parenting class is a good way to get perspective and learn some techniques to counterbalance a lenient tendency. Some parenting books can also be very helpful in this regard. Consulting a parenting professional or mental health professional can also be a constructive way to acquire some “backbone” without harming the relationship you have with your child.

Too Controlling

People like to have things their way. Parents, in particular, often like to have things their way – because they feel that they know what is best for their children. No matter the age of the child, the parent is always a couple of decades (or more) older than the youngster and therefore, even if not wiser, is at least more experienced. This makes the parent rightfully confident in the leadership position. However, being in charge can sometimes lead to being controlling. Let’s look at some of the differences between taking appropriate control and being unpleasantly controlling.

Parental Authority
Parents are in a leadership position in their household. While they can certainly be kind, loving and respectful to their children, they must also be prepared to set boundaries and limits and to offer guidance. Parents are responsible for the safety and education of their children. They need to direct the household. When they fulfill these tasks in a way that is respectful of the child’s feelings and needs, they are taking control. When they fulfill these tasks without sensitivity to the child’s feelings or needs, they may be controlling.

For instance, a parent can set an appropriate bedtime for a child. The parent can use his or her authority to instruct the child to go to bed at that time. However, if the child shows that he or she is not yet ready for sleep or has something that needs to be finished, the parent may make allowances, permitting some flexibility around the designated bedtime in order to meet the child’s needs. However, when the parent is controlling, there will be little or no consideration of the child’s needs.

To understand this better, imagine that you have seen a watch that you’d like to buy. It’s a bit pricey, but exactly what you’ve been looking for. You tell your spouse that you’re thinking of purchasing the watch. Your spouse tells you that there’s no way that you’re going to buy that watch at that price. Even if you manage to purchase the watch, your spouse’s behavior has been controlling. On the other hand, if your spouse entered into a discussion with you about his or her concerns about the cost and tried to creatively find a way that it would be possible for you to get it anyway (i.e. find it elsewhere at a better price, save up over a few months, buy it on a payment plan, etc.), and at no point put his or her foot down to tell you what you can and cannot do, then your spouse is not at all controlling.

A controlling parent calls the shots without regard to the child’s feelings or needs.

Adults with Controlling Parents
It’s not only small children and teenagers who suffer from controlling parents. Adults can have them too! Sometimes parents issue “commands” to their grown children such telling them they must come for dinner once a week or call every day or do errands for them. They may assert their control in various ways – by being aggressive if their demands are not met or by acting pathetic and helpless in a manipulative way. Parents can even make financial threats in order to assert control (“if you don’t do as I ask, I’ll cut you out of my will.”). Adult children need to find their own strength. They don’t really have to do anything their parents want them to do anymore, but they must be willing to face the consequences of non-compliance. Will a parent cut off communication or baby sitting services? Adults have to decide what the cost will be if they defy controlling parents and whether or not they are willing to pay those costs.

Teens with Controlling Parents
Teenagers make those kinds of calculations all the time. A teen might stay out past curfew because friends are all at a big celebration. The teen knows that her controlling father will be enraged when she gets home late but she chooses to deal with that in order to stay out with her friends. In fact, teens – like adults – don’t have to comply with controlling parents. They will, however, have to pay a price for non-compliance. The truth is that parents will have to pay a price, too, for being controlling. Often, the child withdraws from a controlling parent. As the child becomes more independent, he or she has less and less to do with the controlling parent because contact is so unpleasant. It is important for the health of the parent-child relationship that parents give more and more freedoms as the child matures and less and less direction. The child needs space to develop through the process of making errors and making adjustments. The more a parent can start to stand back and allow the child to experience life, the more the child will appreciate him or her. Controlling parents may be highly invested in the success of their child (and therefore make all sorts of rules and conditions in order to “protect” the child and ensure success). However, even if the child succeeds in the end, the parent-child relationship may be so strained that the child will not allow the parent to be part of that success.

Anxiety is the underlying motivation for being controlling. Parents make too many rules and limits when they don’t trust the child to behave normally. However, excessive rule-making usually results in excessive sneakiness and deception. Parents need to work WITH a child to find a way for both parent and child to feel fairly satisfied with conditions. Together, parents and teens can establish curfews and hosuehold rules. A teen needs to be consulted just like an adult.

Young children can also be consulted. However, parents of young children do need to be somewhat more controlling. The younger the child, the less freedom is appropriate. Toddlers need adults to help establish healthy habits. The older the child gets, however, the more the parent has to loosen controls and offer more freedom. Again, failure to do so can pose a serious threat to the parent-child relationship.

When You Know You are Too Controlling
You may realize that you are too controlling. However, fear and concern for the child’s well-being has made you behave this way. You want so badly to help save your child from harm so you tell him that his girlfriend isn’t good enough for him or that he needs to take such and such a job for the summer or that he can’t associate with various friends. You have seen for yourself the poor results you are getting with this method of parenting and you want to change, but your worry for the child’s welfare gets in your way. What can you do?

There are several things you can do. First, join a parenting group of parents whose kids are in the same age group as yours. When you hear how other kids behave and how their parents deal with it, you will acquire so much valuable knowledge. You may also find emotional support in such a group. Reading parenting books and checking online for issues faced by this age group, can also be very helpful. Finally, seek psychological counselling. A professional mental health practitioner such as a psychologist, social worker or family therapist can help you gain perspective and unique skills for solving parenting problems. The sooner you can break away from your controlling tendencies, the sooner your kids will be able to live up to your positive hopes and dreams for them.

Other Parent is Too Strict

It is quite common for one parent to think that the other parent is too strict. The overly strict parent may be the biological parent of your child (i.e. your current spouse or your ex-spouse). Just as easily, the overly strict parent may be the child’s step-parent (i.e. your spouse from your recent re-marriage). No matter who it is, watching this person parent your child (or children) is a painful experience for you. You think that this person is unduly harsh or demanding and may be damaging your child. What can you do about it?

What is Too Strict?
Few parents feel that they, themselves, are too strict. In fact, most parents think that their own perspective on setting rules and boundaries for children is “just right.” If the other parent does it differently, that other parent is seen as “too lenient” or “too strict.” We use our our own values as as the golden standard!

In fact, there is a more objective way to determine whether or not a parent is too strict. We can look at how the children are doing. We need to look at three main areas:

  • the quality of the parent-child relationship
  • the child’s behavior and performance
  • the child’s emotional health

Let’s look at each of these individually. If a parent is too strict, this will affect the quality of the parent-child relationship. Children resent parents who are overly strict. They feel closer to those who seem to understand them and respect their natures and their limitations. Take the case of 17 year-old Sandra, for example. Sandra’s father insists that she come home at 9p.m. on the weekends, whereas her friends are typically allowed to stay out till midnight. Since her father’s strict rule ruins Sandra’s social life, she resents him – in fact, she says she “hates” him. Sandra feels that her father doesn’t understand how important her social life is to her and when she tries to explain it to him, he seems more interested in his own rules than in her happiness and well-being. As a result, her affection for the man is seriously compromised. An overly strict parent will not be able to have a warm, loving relationship with his or her kids because the parent’s standards convey lack of empathy for the child. Even if the parent applies strict rules and standards out of love, as most do, it is not the love that the child experiences, but rather, the unreasonableness of the rules and standards. True love has to take the child’s feelings into account.

The second criteria for overly strict parenting is the effect on the child’s behavior and performance. When a parent puts reasonable boundaries and limits on a child in a loving and flexible way, the child thrives. For instance, parents who limit computer time, insist on homework time, impose a bedtime and demand punctuality for school, actually help their children learn to function well – providing all these fixed times are appropriate and reasonable for the child’s age and personal limitations (this is where flexibility comes in). However, when parents raise the bar too high with overly strict rules and regulations (i.e. the computer time is virtually non-existent, the homework time is excessively long, the bedtime is unreasonably early and the morning routine is so tight as to be unpleasant), children often react with poor behavior of various types. When a child becomes sneaky, manipulative and/or dishonest, it can be an indication that the rules are too many and/or too strict. Children have to survive somehow and one way is by breaking the rules constantly. However, since overly strict parents also tend to be punitive, the kids become experts at devious behavior. On the other hand, in homes where the standards are reasonable and the child can breathe freely, there is no need for deceptive behavior; the child is able to comply with parental demands without resorting to lies and games. In short, the more deceptive your child is, the more likely it is that a parent is being overly strict.

Finally, we can look at the child’s emotional health. When parents are warm, understanding and reasonable, children thrive emotionally. On the other hand, when parents are intimidating, rigid and unreasonable (overly strict), then children can manifest various types of stress reactions. Some kids develop eating disorders. Some develop addictive behaviors. Some have anxiety. Others get depressed. Some don’t seem to react at the time they are dealing with an unreasonable parent, but later on in life, develop trauma syndromes or personality problems related to the dysfunctional home in which they grew up. Although children suffer stress and emotional problems for many reasons (some of them purely biological, others triggered by social and academic stress or personal traumatic experiences), living for a couple of decades with an overly strict parent is a definite stressor and can trigger both emotional issues and physical stress syndromes like headaches, stomach problems and other health problems.

If Your Spouse is Too Strict
Parents who are strict usually love their kids and have no desire to hurt them. They just want them to grow up “right.” They cannot see the damage they are causing. However, one thing is clear: you cannot get your spouse to lighten up by reprimanding him or her for being too strict. Criticizing the strict spouse for his or her parenting approach simply makes the person feel unsupported. The spouse is likely to turn against YOU for “siding” with the children.

Instead of attacking your spouse for overly strict parenting, PRAISE him or her for wise and compassionate parenting. No one is strict on every issue all the time. Let’s say that your overly strict wife decides to let your son sleep over at a friend’s house on a school night. You can say something like, “That was really nice of you. I know that Jay really appreciates that. He’s lucky to have a mom like you!” Of course, do this in a way that sounds genuinely appreciative and definitely NOT sarcastic! By attending to appropriate parenting behaviors, you can reinforce this kind of parenting and help extinguish overly strict tendencies.

Another step you can take is to talk to your spouse about how much the kids love him or her. This helps the overly strict parent relax into more relationship-oriented (as opposed to rule-oriented) parenting.

When your spouse is overly strict to children in front of you, don’t intervene unless there is an issue of physical or emotional abuse (of the kind that Family Services would call “abuse”). If you disagree with his or her intervention, but it is not abusive, then let it go – until you have a private moment with your spouse. When clearly out of earshot of the kids, you can then talk to your partner. Start off by describing what you think is right about your partner’s intervention (i.e. “I’m so glad you laid down the law about homework time! These kids need to apply themselves more seriously to their schoolwork.”) Only AFTER naming the positive side of your parnter’s intervention, should you go on to attempt to modify the overly strict side of it (“I’m just thinking that 3 hours might be too much for them right after school and I was wondering how you would feel if we knocked that down to two hours, with one hour before dinner and one hour after dinner. That would leave them time for their extra-curricular activities which I think are also important for their development. What do you think?”). This sort of approach is far less confrontational than direct accusations (“the kids are going to hate your guts if you lay down rules like that for them”). As a result, it has a better chance of helping your partner learn to address the child’s needs and feelings as he or she is setting rules and limits.