Rules Insure a Child's Physical and Emotional Well-Being
Few words in the parlance of "parenting" have been so generally misused and misunderstood as "strict." Many people, for example, believe that "strict" is synonymous with severe, authoritarian, inflexible, dictatorial, uncompromising, puritanical, dogmatic, heavy-handed, tyrannical. Strict! It even sounds harsh, like the crack of a whip.
This day and time, the strict parent is seen as someone who keeps one eye open to what his or her children are doing (or even thinking or doing) wrong, and the other eye closed to what they they're doing right. But none of this is true. Strict parents have been slandered long enough, and it's time to set the record straight.
To begin with, let me point out that too many years ago (before parents became scared of children and began buying them anything their little hearts desired), "strictness" in child rearing was considered a virtue. Way back when children were children and parents were in charge, to be strict meant nothing more than defining rules clearly and enforcing them consistently.
And what's wrong with that? Nothing at all. In fact, there is everything right and proper about being strict, as old-fashioned as it may be. Truly strict parents do their children a great service, in many ways:
- They communicate expectations clearly, leaving little room for misunderstanding.
- They are decisive, and unapologetically so. Their children, therefore, know just where they stand.
- They teach their children to expect no more from a situation than they're willing to put into it. Their children, therefore, don't expect to get something for nothing.
- They are themselves well-disciplined, and practice no less than they preach. They correct their children's inevitable wanderings consistently, with little fanfare. When the discipline's over, it's over.
More than anything else, strict parents understand that rules not only restrict, but protect. Rules insure a child's physical and emotional well-being. Without them, a child is helplessly insecure. Paradoxically, therefore, a rule is both a constraint and a guarantee of emotional freedom.
Strict parents also realize that a rule that is enforced inconsistently is not really a rule. It's a fraud, a double-cross, and under this kind of "rule" a child is a prisoner of uncertainty. On the other hand, a child who tests a rule (as children always will) and confirms its existence is then free to function creatively and constructively within its boundaries.
One day, when my son Eric was 11, we had a discussion about a friend of his, and her parents. I asked about his impression of them, and he answered, "They're real nice but, well, strict, ya know?"
"No, Eric," I replied, "I don't know. What does that word mean to you?" He thought for a moment. "It means," he said, "it means, well, like they don't let her get away with stuff she shouldn't do."
"I see. Well, Eric, do you think mom and I are strict?"
"Yes," he said, without hesitation, "but you have to be when you raise children."
Out of the mouth of a babe.