There is a model of parenting that elicits a certain amount of fear in a child that if they don’t do what you want them to, you will do something they really don’t want. It’s a parenting style that is easily used because it uses persuasion to get a child to act accordingly. However, in the grand scheme of child rearing, I am leaving behind fear based parenting because I think it sends the wrong message to my children. It sends the message that I am unapproachable and won’t love them if they cross the line.
While I fully believe in negotiating with children and do it often, negotiating and persuading are not the same. Negotiating and fear-based parenting are also not the same.
So when my child is misbehaving and won’t get out of the car, it’s really easy for my mind to jump to
“If you don’t get out of the car I am going to leave you here!”
It’s reverse psychology.
And so many of us that have been down the road of parenting or spent time in a classroom know that reverse psychology typically works well on kids. However, in this instance, it is teaching my daughter something I never want her to hear… that I might leave her if she does something wrong or if she doesn’t do what I want her to do.
As a parent, I want my children to come to me even when they fail. I want them to know I am open arms, listening ears, and willing to forgive and work with them through their tough times.
I don’t want to create a wall with my children by teaching them to fear coming to me because of my reactions when they are toddlers and testing the waters of obedience and behavior. I want each of them to learn consequences, but to also understand that I am loving, forgiving, and never leaving their side.
Children learn societal norms and family behaviors quickly. They are intelligent, resilient, and perceptive. So the moment that phrase “or I am going to leave you” gets used, they have learned it.
There is a fear inside of them that you might just leave them behind. It was used once by someone in my family with my daughter. And it struck me really hard and made me rethink using any sort of fear based comment towards my kids and made me start thinking about my own childhood.
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To this day, if someone walks too fast in front of her, she panics and screams for fear that we will leave her behind. In the grand ordeal that unloading the car is, even if we coach her through what we are doing (take out baby sister, unload bags, get the dog, etc.), if we walk even a few feet away, she becomes terrified that we will leave her.
And to this day I have a sense of fear that I cannot talk to my parents or that if I did certain things that they might disown me in some way. I hate that, because I know it’s not necessarily true. But there is this tiny voice inside of my head that says they will stop talking to me if I ____. Or they won’t love me if I choose _____. Or I made ____ bad decision and I am not going to tell them.
I don’t want to be that tiny, terrifying voice inside my daughter’s head.
I want to be the warmth in her heart that when she makes a mistake or defies me, she knows that I am going to hold her and love on her. I want her to know that I may express my disappointment in an action, defiance, or disobedience, but that it’s no bearing on who she is as a person and that I will always choose a relationship with her over petty feelings and heat-of-the-moment reactions. …That I will never leave her.
I can see the fear and terror in my child’s eyes when she thinks even for a split second that I might leave her or that she does not feel wanted. So in the moments when my mind immediately jumps to using fear based parenting, I start reeling myself in.
I start questioning what big emotions my child might feel if a said a certain phrase or acted a certain way. Because in the long-term scope of parenting, the fear I could elicit in my child at two could mean the same fear to not feel relatable or like I can be confronted with a problem as a teen.
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Kara is an author, wife, and mother of 3 children living in Boston, MA. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and even helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!