You are living by certain values regardless of whether or not you know it. You can live by your own or you can live unwittingly at the whims of other people’s. If you are feeling tossed and turned about by different people’s opinions on parenting, it means that you have not clearly laid out what it is that you value.
You have to get clear on your values. Real clear. You have to figure out what you want, exactly, for yourself and your child, and then you can decide who is worth listening to.
If you feel like you have conflicted values because you want a free-spirited child but you also want a child who will, please, just listen, then you are thinking in the wrong terms.
Start thinking about what you want out of a person. You want a pro-social, cooperative person, who is capable of expressing themselves. If you met someone like this, you would not be shocked by their seemingly contradictory traits. Because there is nothing contradictory about them.
In fact, being assertive and being pro-social are linked together, as long as they’re coupled with the ability to read social cues. This is for adults and children.
Once you understand what it is that you want to encourage in your children—likely, those traits that you value in other people—and realize that there is nothing contradictory about them, it is much easier to come up with methods of discipline and rules for your family. It’s easier to be the parent you want to be because you’re standing on solid ground.
Relationships are what humans are, because it is what we do. More than anything else, more than even tool-makers, we are the relationship-makers.
Together, you and your child are building an image in his mind of what relationships should look like.
How do you want your child to view relationships?
In the future, do you want your child to be baffled by the fact that they don’t win every argument, that their pouting doesn’t get them what they want, that other people’s feelings have to come into the equation? Do you want your child to see relationships as one way streets?
In the future, do you want your child to think that hearing a “no” means that they aren’t loved?
Do you want them to be scared of other people’s emotions?
You want them to consider others. You want them to understand that other people’s emotional experiences are valid—even if they don’t feel the same way, even if they don’t understand it.
That all starts now.
Showing your children your emotions, calmly, and discussing them with them, is showing them that others have feelings that they must consider.
It is showing them that emotions are nothing to be afraid of.
It is modeling emotional regulation for them.
It is allowing them to reflect on how they influence the world.
When you hide your emotions, you are showing your child that they don’t have an effect on the world. That others emotions don’t come into the equation when navigating a situation.
That doesn’t mean you should lose your cool. It only means that from the beginning, you can teach your children that it takes two. It takes two people’s desires and wants and opinions and effort to make a healthful relationship.
Or three people.
However big your family is.
We don’t want our children to be sociopaths. We want them to be loving, caring people who understand that compromise is often necessary and that conflict does not always mean getting our way—even though sometimes, it does!
We want them to understand that other people have different boundaries than they do, and that they must be respectful of them.
Once we get clear on our values—that we want our children to be emotionally healthy and cooperative and that sometimes means not being happy in the moment—it is easy to see how limit setting and emotional validation are not mutually exclusive, but mutually supportive.
Teaching our children these basic values—cooperation and reciprocation—is one of the best gifts we can give them because they’re universally appreciated and useful in every area of life. Teaching our children this important value—that we don’t cave on our boundaries because someone else has big emotions, is a tremendous benefit that will carry them through many difficult times. Be the adult you want them to be.