If you are looking forward to reading this, I’m guessing you’d like to teach your child discipline. He, on the other hand, probably doesn’t care much for discipline. He would rather choose ‘freedom’.
What freedom? The freedom to do as he pleases, when he pleases, with whom he pleases, how he pleases, as much / little as he pleases. Your child is looking forward to ‘complete’ freedom! 🙂
This is why you need to explain the concept of freedom to him. For starters, you might want to tell him that ‘complete’ freedom doesn’t exist alone. It comes with a sneaky partner called ‘consequences’.
He won’t believe you.
Here are some things you might want to say to your child to help him believe:
- When she was born, she was completely free. She didn’t understand clothes, toilet training, cleanliness, neatness, order. Of course, she also didn’t understand nakedness, diapers, dirt, mess, disorder. She would still be ‘free’ if you had not toilet-trained her…
- Language has certain rules. Things have specific names. In English, if you want to say ‘pencil’, you have to say ‘pencil’. You cannot say ‘curtain’ or ‘princess’ and mean the word (or article) ‘pencil’. That is one level of rules. Next, words need to be strung together in a particular order. If you want to say “He went to the grocery store”, you must say precisely that. You cannot say “the store went grocery to he” and expect to be understood. Your child is free to create his own rules, but then he has to bear the consequences – people might not understand what he’s saying…
- Your child wants the love and approval of the people in his life. As a baby, he has everyone’s unqualified love and approval. As he grows, more is expected of him. If he uses his freedom to stab your hand with his fork (he is trying to invent a new game) using all his strength, he will not get your approval for this act. The price of this freedom is the admiration of others. (I hasten to clarify that this type of thinking should be minimized – the minute you teach your child that seeking for approval is a valid aim in life, you are making him vulnerable to lifelong manipulation by others, and the misery it brings. Better to steer clear of approval and aim for “feeling good about oneself”.)
- Your child wants to do well at school because she takes pride in her ability to use her brains and talents, and to work hard to achieve a goal. (This is an example of doing things to “feel good about oneself” rather than “to gain the admiration/approval of others or to show others how smart/brainy/’good’ you are”.) She is free to choose the actions that will help her do well and steer clear of others that will hinder her performance.
- Your child wants the freedom to keep her things the way she’d like them, even if that means all her belongings are strewn around her room. Sure, she’s free to live how she wants, but she’s paying a price for her freedom. She has to keep looking for things, meaning wasted time, additional stress, lost / damaged possessions, being late to events, and the famous ‘not having anything to wear’ – this time, literally, because she simply cannot find all the elements of one outfit! 🙂
- Your child wants the freedom of risky sexual behavior. He will pay the price – in disease, impotence, life-threatening illnesses, unsatisfying relationships, financial hardships (time lost due to illness, medical bills etc.), emotional and physical hardships… the list is looooooooong.
- Your child wants the freedom to ‘not study’. She will not do as well as she would have performed if she had applied herself to her books. But it’s not the end of the world. However, she might discover, much too late, that she needs a minimum passing mark in her school exams to even be considered for that program in Animation Design (her only dream and driving passion) at the Ivy League college she’s set her heart on. Is she willing to pay the price of her freedom?
Be firm with your child. Teach him, from the beginning of his life, that he is free. But if he is free to choose, he must also bear the consequences of the choices he makes.
Tell your child this truth repeatedly. Give her practice in experiencing this truth. Don’t protect her. Don’t cover up for her. If she gets enough practice in little, daily decisions, she will steer relatively clear of the big mistakes.
Let him watch TV till all hours. Consequence: you won’t wake him up. He might miss school (not all children feel this is an ‘undesirable’ result 🙂 ), miss a competition, a performance, an outing; play time with a special friend…
Let her stuff herself with a favorite food. The resulting distress will probably help her regulate her appetite for a long time to come.
The short, sharp lessons that life delivers are invaluable. Enrol your child today.
Eventually, your child will solve the conundrum of freedom: that discipline is the only way to enjoy freedom. Because discipline is what keeps our life ticking, what gives it order; it is what helps us make sense of ourselves, others and the world around us. And when there is order, there is the space – physical, mental and emotional – to enjoy freedom.
As a parent, you are equally free! Free to make your choice about teaching your child discipline. Of course, there will be consequences to your choice… 🙂