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Parenting: Loving Leadership OR How to Stay in Charge without Losing Your Child’s Love


I often wonder: what is the right balance between loving, soft parenting and a more commanding and authoritarian approach to child rearing?

My heart melts with love, like chocolate ice cream under tropical sun, every time I see my little ones. But there are also times when I can’t help but appreciating the benefits of a more strong and controlling approach!

The trouble is, I’m not fully happy with any of these two approaches.

None of them addresses all the issues, especially if you’re looking to raise a strong, confident kid, without, however, “spoiling” him or her.

How, then, can we ever strike a balance? How much control can we afford to give them, for their own good and ours?

Every day, in every situation we need to make numerous decisions, and kids don’t come with an instruction manual!

All you’ve got is your own experience, your instincts and a lot of conflicting views from others and the parenting literature. It’s terribly confusing and you always live with the a) guilt that you’re too harsh/not loving enough or b) fear that you’re giving too much for your child’s own good.

I know most parents can relate to this daily dilemma.

I am currently devouring a book by John Gray, one of my favorite authors on relationships. Best known for Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, he also wrote Children are from Heaven, a gem of practical wisdom for any parent.

His advice on relationships and parenting comes from decades of experience as a counselor, who has assisted hundreds of thousands. John Gray is a father himself, and he has walked his talk and went through the same challenges that every caring parent faces, in trying to raise loving, strong, responsible, intelligent, considerate and happy children.

Dr Gray’s book offers very valuable parenting tools. It also confirms to me that love IS the answer – especially for this new generation, who are less willing to put up with fear-based intimidation parenting techniques. It also proves that punishment never really worked (not in the direction that you and me are looking for, anyway).

Dr Gray also clears a big confusion that parents (including myself) make, by distinguishing between soft parenting (love and no control) and a cooperation-based relationship, in which the parent generously provides love and support at all times, while remaining the boss. The one in charge. The leader.

Children are not ready to be the boss, and neither should we expect them to be.

Dr Gray says that children are from heaven, born with a basic need to be loved, to cooperate with their parents and to follow their will. This is their greatest need, and difficulties arise when they are not in touch with their need to cooperate, of which we, as parents, have to remind them.

“Oh for God sake”, you must be thinking, “cut to the chase and get to the point!” How does he actually do this?

In a step-by-step process, we get the solution.

The scenario assumes the child opposes our requests and demonstrates how we can help restore cooperation.

Step 1 The parent invites the child to cooperate, by using “Will you” or “Would you” (instead of “Can” or “Could you”). As in “Would you switch off the TV now please?”

Step 2 Assuming the child refuses to cooperate, we ask questions, acknowledge his opinion and empathize, making him feel understood. This is the stage where you can negotiate and explain, and allow your child to do the same. You CAN change your mind if you discover you were wrong.

Step 3 If she still resists, you can offer a reward (such as an alternative activity, more time together, now or later, etc Material rewards are acceptable too, such as toys, books, on an age appropriate basis). It is an excellent tool, one that works again and again, although it does require constant planning and creativity, as well as understanding you child’s needs. (By the way, try to “catch” your kid doing the right things and not the wrong ones, and do praise, praise, praise the right behavior.)

Step 4 Facing further opposition, now it is time to command, reminding the child that you are the leader. ” I want you to switch off the TV now.” “Want” is the key word. The same command will be repeated a few times, without explanations at all (explaining and negotiating at this stage would weaken your position). It is crucial to keep your tone calm, positive and firm, not threatening or angry (here is the big challenge, I know. It gets easier with practice. Or so I hope J

Step 5 At this stage, you have an angry kid, in full-blown opposition. When emotions take over, the greatest tool for kids and adults alike is the famous time-out. Time-outs come with instructions: they are meant to teach the kid to step aside for a while and live the emotions of anger, sadness and fear or vulnerability, that very soon allow them to get back in touch with their need to cooperate and be loved by their parents.

Time-outs should never be used as a punishment, but as an opportunity to blow off steam and get back to normal. And they do get back in no time. As long as we remember not to make them wrong because they display their emotions, but to stand by lovingly.

The best thing to do is model this behavior ourselves: when overwhelmed by our emotions, take a step back and take a break. Communicate to your kid that you need a minute to cool down. Take a few deep breaths. Allow yourself to release tensions, anger or worries for a short interval – alone.

Reassure and soothe your own inner child and the adult you will get back on track in no time, ready to attend to the real child’s needs in much better shape!

Often times I help my daughter name her emotions (sadness, anger, tiredness etc). I stay with her while she cries for a minute and help her work through her feelings. It often ends with a big bear hug that melts all tensions (both hers and mine 🙂 ) Watching a toddler melt down is not easy. Imagine what we adults must look like when we do that! Yet we need to allow ourselves to feel and process these states, and clear the way for the positive and strong person that you are.

I tried it. It works great. While it takes time and practice, it’s well worth all the effort!


NOW, I’m really eager to hear from you in the comments bellow: what is the biggest challenge you face in your relationships? 

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Posted by Alina on May.01 2015

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  1. The relationship with my two and a half years’ girl has been working great so far.
    But/And, as in any other relationship which is growing and organically unfolding, there are moments which trigger personal emotions.
    One of the delicate moments is when i burst into anger with some “unappropriate” behavior, such as my girl refusing to get dressed (and we have an appointment in the city).
    My tone is obviously higher than normal and my instinct is to go somewhere else and have some breathing exercises.
    Which is not possible, it’s just the two of us in the house at that moment, i cannot leave my girl unattended
    I am perfectly aware that is the right time for self-reflection and the episode is triggering some of my emotional experience.
    Any idea how i should handle these moments?
    Thanks and have a nice evening,

    • Dear Mihaela,
      Thank you for sharing your experience with us!
      I believe absolutely every parent can relate and you have a great question. While I am not a child specialist personally, the authors I resonate with recommend that we take a short break (even if you let kiddo get busy with her favorite game in the next room for a minute or two, while you can remain silent and do whatever it takes to attend to your own inner child, your own emotions). Some specialists recommend that we explain what we are doing: mommy is a bit upset now and i need a minute to relax and feel better. This way we offer a great example to our children in which they learn emotion management “live”. Taking a few deep breaths helps; tapping (EFT) as well. Don’t beat yourself up for what you feel. Give yourself a minute or two if possible; Louise Hay recommends beating pillows; Barney the dinosaur sings about “pounding clay” when we are angry:)
      The thing is, as we grow up we were taught that anger is inappropriate and displaying it is disrespectful or uncool. But hardly anyone taught us how to manage it constructively by taking a break and regrouping, or assertively communicating our position without threats/aggressiveness/passive aggressiveness.
      With smaller kids i found it often worth to either distract their attention from the issue (e g getting dressed to go out) with some game or joke, rewarding (if we get dressed now we can spend more time in your favorite playground etc). One fuuny suggestion i found was, if time and temperature permit it, let them go undressed and face the consequences:) I haven’t tried it just yet, but i might! Connclusion: do whatever you know will get you into a better mood:) Aim for a better state. I find it hard sometimes when I’m right in the middle of such situations, but practice helps a lot! Once we break our own patterns (e g snap ourselves out of that anger state) the next time it will be easier. And easier. I hope it helps! Please know you’re not alone and thank you for such powerful questions!

PoZitivistas photos by Lia Nichifor