Lessons From Reality: “Mom…Dad…Be The Wall”
When Reality Speaks…Pay Attention!
Do you find that reality is soft, easy, and forgiving…or do you find that reality is firm, consistent and generally predictable?
I generally find the latter is true. Reality seems quite consistent and when we notice this fact, we can learn something very valuable about effective parenting.
As parents, we sometimes have difficulty maintaining consistency with our consequences. Thus, consequences range from non-existent to soft to harsh.
We allow negotiation over consequences and limits, which produce a household where limits are constantly shifting and changing. This approach makes parenting feel like a constant struggle and that your words are rarely easily honored.
Shifting and changing limits are also bad for children. Children thrive when limits are clear and consequences for exceeding the limits are consistently enforced.
Let’s Look At ‘The Wall’
Imagine that you’re visiting your child at school. Envision yourself standing in the hallway as herds of children walk by. The children could vary in age from the very young to perhaps high schoolers. They may vary in abilities—some are brilliant, some are average, and some are below average. Some may have disabilities. Some may be clumsy. Some are gifted athletes. Some will go to work in the family business. Some will go to a community college, and some will go to Harvard. Some will struggle to keep a job, and others will be hugely successful.
But with all these children, there is one common denominator that we never discuss: You will not see any of them bumping into the wall.
All of these children have great respect for the wall. They do not test the wall. They don’t bump into the wall, asking if it will be firm today or soft today. They don’t challenge or even talk to the wall.
Because the wall has always been consistent and highly predictable…never negotiating its position. (There is a tremendous lesson to be learned here.)
When they were very little and began to test the wall, they found that the wall always remained firm. If they had a cold or stayed up late or were just in a bad mood and weren’t paying attention, the wall never cut them a break. The wall always said, “Here I am.” No drama. No argument. No discussion. Just steady and consistent.
Your children may have experienced some discomfort when they bumped into the wall. You can imagine toddlers trying to understand why the wall was always so tough on them.
The wall never got upset or frustrated or lectured the child who was testing it. Some of your children tested the wall over and over again. Eventually, every single child understands that the wall means business. Every child understands where the limits are. Every child has respect for the wall and stops testing it.
Mom…Dad…”Be The Wall.”
The metaphor of the wall has great value. When it comes to setting limits and establishing the consequences for exceeding those limits, it is best to learn from the wall. You must make it simply and consistently clear that limits don’t change because your child disagrees with the limits. The limits don’t change because your neighbor allows their teen to play “Call of Duty.” Your limits don’t change because everyone else watches ‘it.’
In fact, your limits can’t change if they whine, tantrum or throw a meltdown. Their response cannot cause you to waiver or get soft.
Where does this apply? Bedtime. Homework. Mealtime. Sibling behavior. Curfew. Privileges. Public behavior.
In other words…Everywhere.
When you set a limit, it must be clear that you have done so because you know that this is good for them, and it’s a nonnegotiable, relatively permanent decision. Not with anger. Not with rudeness. Not with frustration or defensiveness. Just with firm, consistent resolve. Be the wall.
You want to make parenting easier, don’t you? Set limits and stick to them. Be the wall, and your children will learn to respect limits without constant reminders or repeated consequences, and you won’t have to micromanage their lives. If you have been soft, and now become the wall…please expect huge drama for a few weeks. You can be certain your children liked it better when they were more in control. But don’t let this minor bump in the road change your path. Please consider, when setting limits—Be the wall.