Can we raise children without controlling them?
Yes, there is a way. Columnist Kavita Srinivasan explains parenthood in the modern age
“I have to push them to swim or they wouldn’t do it,” a friend of mine recently confessed, after reading my last column about parenting not being a dictatorship.
“I had to take control,” she said. “They have to be water safe.”
It’s understandable — our need to make sure our children learn, grow, are water safe, healthy… the list goes on. The question is, HOW do we achieve this without them resenting us and wanting to run a mile away from our instructions?
It is possible to teach our children everything we want to WITHOUT
(a) making them feel controlled and
(b) most importantly, by preserving the most vital thing in any parent-child relationship: CONNECTION.
Pick three things you want to be firm about.
Children stop listening when we’re constantly imposing our opinion on them. Learn to say ‘YES’ more than you say ‘NO’. This way they will actually take you seriously. There are three things that I am firm about. Everything else is up for negotiation:
1) Screen time: Technology and social media are wonderful in many ways but not when they disconnect you from people and the world around you. It is important for our children to be bored and to learn from the natural world around them. Too much screen time can actually impede our child’s potential.
To a toddler (because I have one!): “I know you love watching xx. It is upsetting to stop. It is time to put it away. We can watch more tomorrow.”
How you can say this to an older child: “I know you love your video game. Play for a little while, yes. Too much playing is not great, like too much of anything is not great (sleep, exercise, work…). Can we agree on a time to stop and spend some time together? Let’s figure this out together!”
The key: Collaboration and saying the word ‘NO’ as little as possible.
If they’re pushing back, repeat it over and over again whilst maintaining your calm. If they’re still not stopping, say the following:
“You’re having a hard time not stopping. I’m going to take the remote away. It’s okay to be upset. I am here with you.”
Keep repeating this. Hold your boundary. The key is to stay calm when they’re screaming. You are the confident leader of your home. You are the adult. Consistency is the key. Never give in.
2) Bedtime: Having a predictable bedtime routine is hugely important in emotionally regulating your child. Children like stability, children need predictability and they thrive on a mundane, regulated schedule. This is especially true for toddlers — their brains can’t cope with change. They do best when they know what’s coming next.
If there is pushback for bedtime:
“You’re having so much fun playing with that toy. It’s hard to say goodbye. It’s time for bed. We can play more tomorrow with anything you want.”
(Start with empathy, move to the boundary and finally, give them control.)
If they still persist:
“I know it’s very hard to put the toy down. Let me help you with that.”
With teenagers and older children, take a more collaborative approach.
3) Treating themselves (and by default, others) with kindness: This begins with us treating them kindly. It is also directly related to how we treat ourselves. It’s important to always be compassionate with ourselves — half our problems as adults stem from how little compassion we have for ourselves. If we change that voice in our children’s head, we give them a friend for life — themselves. Really, that is the only friend they will ever need.
Example: Your child hits another child.
Say: “You’re upset. You’re a good kid having some big feelings. It is not okay to hit. Come, my love. Something must’ve really upset you for you to behave like that. Let me hug you.”
Then, to the child that was hit: “That must have really hurt. How can I make you feel better? It is not okay that xx hit you.”
Turn to your child: “How can we make your friend feel better? Can we ask him?”
This is NOT encouraging them to hit someone. This is replacing the hurt with kindness and love. No one is bad; only feelings matter. But as always, the hard work begins with us. We need to regulate our feelings, maintain our boundaries and be kind to ourselves to show up for our children with calm, presence and compassion. Let’s begin now.