These days, psychologists, psychotherapist and teachers are seeing parents who feel unsure about how to set limits, impose frustrations and punish misbehavior. Overly cautious about the perils of a repressive childhood as the path to producing neurotic Woody- Allan’esque adults, today’s parents, concerned about not damaging their child’s tender psyche, are feeling helpless in relation to ordinary daily situations like meals, dressing, teaching a child not to hit or kick, and more.
Oversimplified concepts of attachment mislead parents to attempt to offer total attunement and availability in order to prevent neurosis and low self-esteem. However, not setting appropriate limits on the child’s behavior validates for the child his or her omnipotent power to control others’ feelings and actions, instead of developing the capacity for staying in charge of themselves.
For his own optimal development, the child needs both his own self, and the parent’s self, to be recognized within the field of the reciprocal bond. If either his or the parent’s subjectivity is not recognized, the child’s development is put at risk.
In simple terms: Parents need to be responsive without giving up their own subjectivity. Parents need to express to the child what they authentically feel; need; cannot endure; can do to protect themselves, all in a non-attacking way. Without such information and responses, their child doesn’t “see” them, doesn’t know what is authentically expected from him/her, and is deprived of their growth-promoting function, the parental function that activates the child’s hidden capacities for self-regulation.
A colleague from Jerusalem, Dr. Lwow, likens the important parental function of limit-setting to the banks of a river: without its banks, the mighty river might flow in every direction, possibly becoming destructive. Thoughtful, caring parents, by setting limits, guide and protect the current of the river, the development of the child, the child’s impulses and frustrations, wishes and awareness to other people’s feelings. Appropriate boundaries provide children with their “river banks”.
Meg Akabas, a certified parenting educator, has written a spectacularly useful book that translates the complex tasks of parenting into short, clearly written one-and-a-half page “sound bites”, just what a tired, over-worked brain of a parent can take. Meg does a great job of covering 52 important parenting issues that parents struggle with, in her book “52 Weeks Of Parenting Wisdom- Effective Strategies for Raising Happy, Responsible Kids”. Each “chapter”, which can be read in just a few minutes, provides clear guidance on how to handle specific topics such as respect, self-control, cooperation, sleep habits, and more.
Meg encourages parents to set higher expectations for their children, so that children’s capacities can actually get a chance to evolve. Meg states: “America is suffering from an epidemic of low-expectations parenting”, which is one of the results of the breakdown of traditional parenting, and the desire of modern parents to befriend their children and create a relationship of equals.
I have recommended the book to many parents and suggest you consider it as a great gift to any of those around you who are still in the trenches, trying to figure out how to say no, when to say no, and how to teach children to care about others and take pride in their own capacity to control themselves.