Parents…Firm; Not Angry

There are three “Fs” for parents to consider when disciplining their children. In the last few posts, I have invited parents to think about the importance of Fairness and some of its dynamics regarding if, when, and how parents discipline children. In this post, I invite parents to consider the differences between being firm versus being angry when disciplining.

The Fs of effective discipline

Diane Wagenhals, Program Director, Master Trainer, Curricula Writer, Researcher, Mother and Grandmother

Effective discipline, as we have been exploring, involves a high level of calmness and confidence on the part of a parent, so that both the parent and the child understand that it is the parent who has the power and authority to set and maintain rules.

There are many responsibilities for being in that position of authority.

Ultimately, the goal is to raise children who are confident, responsible, compassionate, able to love and accept themselves, able to manage their emotions, creatively problem-solve, and be free to own and use their gifts. And yes, there are many other qualities parents can hope will be true one day in their fully-grown children.

Gradually over time when parenting, a goal is to prepare yourself and your children for when you are no longer in that authority position. This happens during and at the end of adolescence when children have been prepared to stand on their own.

Keeping all that in mind, in the day-to-day moments of disciplining it is important for parents to consider how they deliver the parenting messages that set and maintain limits, boundaries and rules, especially when one of those has been violated.

Goals when disciplining is for children to:

  • respect that parents are in the authority
  • at the same time understand that parents are loving
  • expect that parents will not use their power to cause fear (or even terror) by physically or emotionally harming, abusing or abandoning them

When parents are setting or enforcing a limit, boundary or rule, especially when it is nonnegotiable, they need to do so using a voice tone and body language that is firm as opposed to one that is angry or threatening.

If you look up the definition of “firm” you will find synonyms such as “solid, unyielding and resistant.”

A firm voice tone does not involve yelling with or without angry body language such as fist-shaking or towering over a child in order to intimidate him or her. At the same time, a firm voice is often strong, clear, crisp and definite.

Body language needs to complement and reinforce that with strong eye contact. Overall body language should say, “I am in charge here.” Sometimes parents need to be physical when they are being firm, perhaps lifting a young child off the ground while looking eye to eye with that child.

It never involves shaking or in any way physically harming a child. It is about saying with confidence, “I am the authority here because you are not yet mature enough to exhibit self-control.”

Parents need to check within themselves to ensure that they are sufficiently self-controlled so as to not have anger running the show. (For an excellent illustration of anger, see the movie Inside Out in the caricature of that angry inner person.)

Imagine you need to firmly inform a child that he or she may not jump on the furniture.

See how it feels if you scream, “You are not allowed to jump on the sofa! How many times do I have to tell you!” while dramatically leaping to grab an imaginary child, angrily placing that child on the floor. Then try changing your voice tone to one that is firm, absolute, definite but not angry and say, “The rule is no jumping on furniture. You may get down now by yourself or I will help you down. You choose.” If the child chooses to continue to jump, the parent in that definite, unyielding way firmly removes the child, and if necessary, walks the child out of the room and away from the tempting furniture.

Being able to speak with confident firmness is a significant part of effective disciplining.

Children eventually come to hear that firm, definite voice tone and realize, while their parent is not about to hurt them, whatever they are doing needs to stop because that parent will take charge and enforce a rule.

Invitation to reflect:

  1. Think about the degrees to which you speak in firm ways versus angry ways. Are there things you can do to project firmness without anger?
  2. In any given discipline, observe yourself to ensure that you are using firmness and not anger in your voice and body language.

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network