Decoding the art and science behind “Firm parenting”!

A few days back, my child, suddenly hit another child, out of sheer frustration for not getting a toy, which he rightfully believed to be his! On correcting his behavior, I was told by a friend that it was normal for kids to behave like that and I need not indulge in correcting. In fact, I was surprised when I was labelled as an unkind parent, only because I was being firm to my kid for an inappropriate behavior (hitting another child)! I didn’t even touch my child, yet the tone and my facial expression was analyzed and my parental avatar was subjected to a dissection of a kind and I was eyed as a bad parent!

It was then that I realized that correcting children with a firm tone and expression had also found a way under “Bad parenting”! This generation, amidst all “no-touch, only talk” parenting seems to have surrendered to every kind of misbehavior of their children. What happened to the basic definition of ‘parent” or “to stay in charge”?

Many people associate the word “Firm Parenting” as “bad”, “sadistic”, “authoritarian” to even “abusive”.  I guess our generation has taken parenting to another level. We need to understand the art and science of being firm as a parent. It is the science of drawing boundaries or correcting children’s behaviors without being unkind to them and of course without hitting!

I read in a magazine that parenting was like walking on a tightrope and the success depended on the art of balancing. “Firm Parenting” was like the same. “Firmness” is all about drawing boundaries with some discipline, without hampering the essence of the game! It is the path, in between that of “Permissive” and “Authoritarian” parenting. Even experts from NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences) emphasize that the key behind successful parenting is “Firm Parenting”.

Firm Parenting is all about enforcing clear boundaries or rules without being unkind or abusive( like shaming a child etc.). For instance, if playing with colors or scribbling on the wall is a no-no for you, then shouting and yelling will not help. On the contrary, if you park a place where you allow them to play with colors, then that way it sets a clear boundary. The children will understand that playing in that space is allowed, while playing anywhere else is not permissible. This way you have respected both your and his feelings to play and mess around.

The above example is that of firm parenting.

In case of an authoritarian parent, the parent, who doesn’t like the idea of playing with water will shout, scold and prohibit the child from doing so. Such authoritarian parents are more like dictators, who superimpose their own rules and don’t like children having their own say. They don’t believe that children can carve a path of their own and often shun the idea of the same.

In case of permissive parent, the parent would give in to the child’s demand at the mere drop of a hat and would let the child do anything and everything they say. The children of such parents have an easy way out as their tantrums and whining are effective tools to make the parents surrender and give in to their unreasonable demands.

Firm parents or the ones who consciously practice “Firm Parenting”, are the ones who are emotionally responsive to their children’s demands, while at the same time staying in charge. They exercise reasonable control over the demands of their children. Such parents, will often like to have a win-win situation whereby they will allow the child to have his demand, but again within their set boundaries.

Although, I have understood the theory of “Firm parenting” by consciously focusing on it, yet the success part  of it is taking time. There are both good and bad days of it, when I succeed and I don’t. Yet, the focus doesn’t shift from the agenda that I have consciously focus and practice it. For instance, just like the example mentioned above, my three year old has constantly and consistently been re-directed and told to play with water, colors and sand exclusively in the balcony. I am open to accidents, yet I constantly and consistently enforced the rule, which finally has sunk in the message. Now my kid knows that sand play or any kind of messy activity has a separate corner in the house. As a parent, constant telling and re-enforcing of boundaries helps set some amount of discipline and organized behavior in children, while at the same time keeping you peace with yourself.

Firm parenting allows the children to have good emotional and behavioral regulation of self.  Studies have found that parents, who could combine warmth, emotional responsiveness with reasonable amount of firmness and control, allowed children to develop emotional and behavioral regulation. It allowed the children to exercise restraint, understand clear limits and the extent to which it can be stretched.

Being firm has several improvements in the long run over children. From improved self-regulation, being responsible, disciplined, confident, adaptable, achievement oriented, heightened sense of security to being positive, social and making sound decisions successfully, the benefits are numerous and proven too!

However, understanding the art of being “Firm” without being unkind or disrespectful is the key. It takes practice to achieve, yet the key is stay consistent to reap long term results. The best approach is to stay observant to your strategies towards yourself and to your child’s. It will involve learning and exercising new skills of staying firm from time to time, depending upon the success or failure rate of your method. Figure out ways to send across the message to crucial trouble spots, without losing your sense of control or temper! It is a very valuable and useful exercise as it hones the skills of us, the parents as well.

Our children are constantly training us by giving us the regular challenges in life. Their challenges pose numerous opportunities to us to use firmness effectively, without being too harsh on them. Just like an artist chooses the colors and strokes to beautify a picture, we too will have to choose from a lot of permutation and combinations to beautify or rather create a picture perfect image of our child, which looks perfect to us!

To help the newbie parents, here are some of the tried and tested tips to help you stay connected to your child, while staying in control.

  • Spend time with your child to foster a healthy positive relationship. The effects will be not just immediate but immense to the tune that when you exercise rules, your children will listen and do the needful.
  • Children, who look up to parents or caregivers with love and respect are more able to reciprocate to their commands in times of need. It just translates into fear in case of authoritarian parent and nullifies in case of permissive parent.
  • Setting too much and too many limits can sometimes backfire as too many rules of discipline can blow out of proportion and kids sometimes crumble under pressure. Be flexible and accommodate their needs, but within your permissible and of course, appropriate limits.
  • Be consistent and clear with what you consider as appropriate and inappropriate and communicate the same, in clear concise sentences. Too many words or lectures are often tuned out by children.
  • Always be present in the moment when responding to your child. Acknowledge and help him identify his feelings. Post this communicate the limit and always give him an alternative plan or another option, to help him feel better and simultaneously, get your job done.
  • Talk less and to the point. Clear and smaller sentences are more effective than longer ones.
  • Do keep a mental note of the successes you achieve and enforce those positive strategies every time you are stressed or hitting a soft trouble spot.
  • In case the used strategies don’t work (the days when you lose your cool), analyze situations and come up with alternatives or possible action plans to respond differently, yet meaningfully to your kids.
  • Always listen to your child from time to time to assess his feelings, especially in those moments when you were being firm. It will be a kind of a feedback, yet you will learn to evaluate your responsiveness and tweak your strategies as per the need of the hour.

Firm parenting is all about setting clear demarcation and limits around your growing child, who doesn’t have much knowledge about appropriate and inappropriate. However, don’t be too rigid and too orderly in disciplining or setting the limits as well.

Sometimes, we assume we are very orderly and rigid in our own world. Our kids give us a lot of opportunities to break the boundaries and broaden our horizons. Do what it takes to go that extra mile, but still don’t forget to exercise the “firm or authoritative parenting”, which is mostly to teach with care and love. These rules will help your child stay safe, healthy and above all happy in the long run.

Just like vaccinations (even though painful), help in building immunity in the body, in a very similar way, being firm (sometimes even an occasional scolding) helps in boosting a child’s behavioral immunity. So all the parents, who are dying of guilt, for having scolded their kids, please get rid of that guilt. Sometimes people, usually parents themselves, are all busy judging you, but only you know the gravity of a situation, the purpose of being firm in the long run, so tune out such people and lead a focused and a happy, fun filled life with your ward, while focusing on firmness as mentioned above.



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