How Strict Should I Be?
Parents occasionally will ask, “How strict should I be with my children? Am I being too strict or not strict enough?” My short answer: “Be lovingly firm.” To parent “Lovingly” is to demonstrate your affection for your child in word and in action. It starts with demonstrating to your child that she is very important to you; that she is more important than your job, your pleasures, and even your own life. Demonstrating this kind of love requires giving her the time and attention she needs. If, for good reason, this time must be limited, then it is of high quality. Your child will know if your attention is simply of token value, or is real.
Your words and actions are a reflection of your heart. To lovingly parent is to compliment and to correct your child at the appropriate moments. Compliments without correction will soon fade as disingenuous, for every child knows that some correction is needed. Failing to correct leads a child to become self-centered and stubborn in her waywardness. Correction, on the other hand, demonstrates that you are paying attention to her actions and that you do care about her behavior and her heart. Your actions often speak louder than your words. Loving actions include hugs, kisses, tender assistance, playful wrestling, attentive conversation with eye contact, and being available to your child.
To parent your child with firmness means to strive to be reasonable, proactive (instead of reactive), consistent, and forgiving. Your expectations of your child must fit her developmental capabilities. You must invest the time and forethought to anticipate future behavior and how you will handle it. With proper preparation, your explosive or reactive responses to her misbehavior will be lessened. Lovingly firm parents are consistent in their expectations of the child and in the consequences or punishments imposed upon the child when misbehavior occurs. They also realize that it is okay to occasionally offer grace (not impose a punishment) when the child is clearly remorseful and repentant for an offense. To some it may seem inconsistent to ever offer grace when punishment is clearly deserved. But to the wise parent, this is an opportunity to show compassion and even vulnerability as the parent tells the child of a situation where he too committed an offense and mercy was shown by the authority figure.
In summary, to be lovingly firm is to hold your child to a high standard of behavior (and heart attitude) while realizing that that perfection is unachievable and that we parents are not perfect. It is to be intimately involved in your child’s life while remaining a strong authority figure in his life. This has been called authoritative parenting. This is to be contrasted with “authoritarian” parenting at one extreme (harsh, unaffectionate and removed), and “permissive” parenting at the other (non-correcting, uninvolved, and overindulgent). The authoritative parent shows balance in encouragement and correction. In so many ways, proper parenting is more an art than it is a science. Always be a student of this process and love your child.