Benevolent Dictatorship Verses Controlled Democracy
One such approach is the '1-2-3 Magic' program. Far more than simply a self-help parenting book, '1-2-3 Magic' is also available in seminars and video recordings to help parents learn and adopt the practices described therein to help parents teach children to better manage their own behavior. According to the author, this is "a parents-in-charge strategy... but no arguing, yelling or spanking is allowed" (Phelan, 2009). The author describes basic approaches to behavior control and modification based on 'Start vs. Stop' behaviors (things they are not doing that they should be doing or things they are doing that they shouldn't be doing) leading to a 'three strikes' counting method. If the child fails to correct or alter the unwanted behavior after three requests, the child must be removed to a 'time out' in a private room, typically for one minute per year of the child's age (e.g., four minute time-outs for a four-year-old). The author stresses that both the requests and the confinement be carried out by a parent (or teacher) in a calm, authoritative manner. Alternatives to time-outs including loss of privileges or toys, earlier bedtimes, and even 'reverse time-outs' where the parent leaves the room and refuses to communicate with the child for the duration of the punishment are offered. The main concern is for the parent to maintain an authoritative stance and not give in to demands. This is an authoritarian parenting approach with the author reminding the reader, "The overall orientation of 1-2-3 Magic is what you might call, dictatorship to democracy. When your kids are little, your house should be ..a benign dictatorship where you are the judge and jury"(Phelan, 2009) and "Your authority is not negotiable"(Phelan, 2009). The author also states, "When it comes to discipline, you want to be consistent, decisive, and calm"(Phelan, 2009). The author stresses not engaging your child in emotionally charged power struggles, or excessive talking and long explanations. The authors stance on corporal punishment is very clearly outlined, "Actually, ninety-nine percent of the time that parents scream, hit and spank their children, the parent is simply having a temper tantrum"(Phelan, 2009).
The book, "Parenting with Purpose: Five Keys to Raising Children with Values and Vision", opens with the author stating, "Being a parent can be one of the great joys of life. It can also be an awesome and frustrating responsibility. There are few roles as demanding as that of a parent"(Reasoner & Lane, 2007). The authors of this book have a much more permissive approach than the, "1-2-3 Magic" author does. They state, "The first basic need of parenting is to create feelings of security in children"(Reasoner & Lane, 2007) and "Structure is important to children, as is having choice within that structure. They need to understand cause and effect and the nature of consequences. Develop shared control by defining limits and choices and the consequences of each. Help them anticipate and plan for the "what ifs." Give them plenty of lead-time before asking them to complete something or to change to another activity. Give them explanations for what you want them to do and why you want them to do it" (Reasoner & Lane, 2007). While the authors state a need for control and structure in the household, they also stress it shouldn't be without the child's input and without explanation. "Probably one of the most important things you can do for your child's social and emotional development is listen! Listening builds trust and is a lifeline for your child between the inner self and the outside world. Validate his intelligence by listening in a serious and accepting manner to fears, concerns, and ideas"(Reasoner & Lane, 2007). They encourage the parent to value their child's opinions and their own, "Knowledge is information that you have accumulated. No book or amount of knowledge can guarantee that you will be a good parent. Parental wisdom comes over a period of time, pulling together and applying all those things that help you arrive at being an effective parent"(Reasoner & Lane, 2007). The authors are also quick to dismiss some types of parenting guides and teachings as "shortcuts", "Good parenting comes not from trite suggestions and strategies but from becoming parents with personal strength and positive self-esteem. Your effectiveness as a parent can be hampered by your own insecurities, neurotic tendencies, addictions, emotional problems, and low self-esteem. None of us is perfect. This is why we constantly need to invest in our own personal growth"(Reasoner & Lane, 2007). The authors focus on the parent more so than the child as they seem to believe that without a healthy parent, there cannot be effective parenting regardless of the style. "Children learn how to nurture themselves by modeling what they observe you doing. If they see you treating yourself as someone who is special and has needs, they are more likely to do the same for themselves" (Rutledge, 2007).
This book and," Child of Wonder: Nurturing Creative and Naturally Curious Children", both stress that the parent needs to respect the child's individuality, encourage a child to question authority when warranted, and to adapt their parenting style to the child. "Studies about businesses and corporations have found that employees create more and think better when they feel they are on a more even playing field with their boss, when their feelings and opinions matter and are taken seriously, and when they feel appreciated for their hard work. While we don't want to treat our families as corporate entities, the same translates to a family. A study of the family life of people who both resisted and followed Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany found that those that succumbed to the ideas were raised in households where rules were steadfast and harsh. Those who resisted came from families who valued respectful argumentation" (Carson, 2008). It is even argued that a rigid parenting approach can stifle a child's creativity, "Almost without exception, parents who provided materials and resources that encourage growth of imagination have raised those who have developed their creativity to the fullest. They allowed creative expression and encouraged discourse. They held high standards of behavior, but were not heavy handed with rules. Parenting styles are as diverse as people, so there is certainly no single right way to raise a creative and critical thinking child. However, there are specific actions parents can take to encourage creative thinking in the home." (Carson, 2008).
In stark contrast to this is the thought that given too much freedom and control, some children will flounder and fail to develop self control and discipline, "Remember, children are basically egocentric. They think mostly about themselves, and that is perfectly normal" (Rutledge, 2007) . "The ability to control one's emotions and the actions that follow is one of the most important skills you can teach your child as a preventative against depression. When your child understands that she has some active part in controlling her emotions, she develops emotional resiliency and healthy self-esteem" (Rutledge, 2007).
I think that the saying that parenting is the hardest job you will ever love, is very true indeed. It is also one where you get all of the blame when things go wrong and only some praise when things go right. In parenting, you are directly affecting the future, not just of your household but potentially of a community and possibly the world. While I think most parents have the highest hopes and expectations for their children, it is very hard not to become overwhelmed by them. "One of the most difficult tasks of parenting is deciding how you will discipline your child. Whatever method you choose to use, if it is going to be effective, it needs to be consistent and fair. Think of it as a means for teaching a child how to function within a unit and, later as an adult, in the world at large. Rules provide structure and expectations for how to behave. Rules exist for a reason and have a purpose." (Rutledge, 2007). "Children rely upon you for stability, structure, and nurturing" (Rutledge, 2007). When we took our daughter, Lilith, to her first Tae Kwon Do class, the instructor said to us, "The first thing I noticed was that your daughter is very spoiled." She said this to us in the kindest way. Even though Lilith had followed every instruction, seemingly without question, there was a sense of defiance and questioning that the instructor sensed that she knew we had not. Consistancy is hard for us as parents as we both come from very different parenting styles. The meshing of these two sometimes works, sometimes doesn't. Add to the fact that we are both only children raising an only child and it is easy to see how three strong personalities do not always form a controlled democracy which is what we strive for. As much as I know when Lilith reaches her teen years I may regret saying this, I do believe in questioning authority. Not all people in positions of power are always honest and forthright, myself included. If I am asking something unreasonable from Lilith, I hope that she will question me about it. By the same token, I hope that if I can provide a reasonable explanation as to why what I am asking is appropriate, she will accept it and comply. I strive to teach her respect not just for others but for herself. We give her options and let her know that there are consequences for her actions, both positive and negative. We tell her she can choose not to get ready for bed but by choosing not to, she is also choosing not to have a story read to her. Our hope is that Lilith will grow into an individual that listens to her moral compass and uses common sense to guide her way through life as an independent adult.
Carlson, Ginger. (2008) Child of Wonder: Nurturing Creative & Naturally Curious Children. Eugene, OR: Common Ground Press.
Papalia, D.E., Wendkos-Olds, S., Duskin-Feldman, R. (2008) Human Development, Eleventh Edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Pruett, Kyle & Kline-Pruett, Marsha. (2009)Partnership Parenting: How Men & Women Parent Differently: Why It Helps Your Kids and Can Strengthen Your Marriage.Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.
Reasoner, R.W. & Lane, M.L. (2007) Parenting with Purpose: Five Keys to Raising Children with Values and Vision. Fawnskin, CA: Personhood Press.
Rutledge, Rebecca. (2007) The Everything Parents Guide to Children with Depression. Avon, MA: Adams Media.