It all starts the day we bring our little bundle of life home from the hospital. At the start of the journey, we hold that fragile little person in our arms and wonder if we have what it takes to be a parent. Every little decision we make sets the stage for that day or week, or even that year. It’s scary and exhilarating to have so much power and control. It’s an overwhelming privilege and responsibility that goes unprotested for about 18 months. Of course, there are the battles over eating, sleeping and changing diapers that must be dealt with early on, but a new piece of the puzzle comes to the table around 18 months or so and adds a challenge we may not have been prepared for. Independence!
Buried within every little person is a desire to explore the world, to step out of the familiar cocoon of infancy in order to experience and master the world at large. Part of that process involves experimenting with self will vs. parental will. A toddler has just begun to embrace his sense of “me”! What a wonderful and crazy discovery - ME!
Unfortunately, for YOU, that means your authority is now going to be tested on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. If you can remember WHY these battles are happening, it may help you not take it so personally. The dangers of misunderstanding what’s really happening in this new stage of life is that it’s all too easy to let emotions go haywire. Feelings of frustration, resentment, failure, hurt and anger can easily set in when this new season of life brings these daily challenges our way. You’ve been granted the lead role of authority simply because you’re the parent. Now that you have it, remember, it’s going to be tested. Children test authority. That’s natural and normal. It doesn't mean they are bad for testing things out. They are natural born scientists. They want to know how things work and what influence they have over their world!
When your authority is tested, all kinds of emotions may come into play. Remember, if your children are young, yes, you have to prove that you are the authority by following through on consequences as they dare you to on a daily basis, and you will have to flex your muscles daily (many times by helping them to cooperate when they fall limp on the floor in a puddle of tears, for example) in order to help your child obey you. Eventually, around the age of eight or nine, you won’t need to prove in the same way that you are the authority figure. You won’t need to always be right, and won’t need to flex your power to prove that you are the grown up in the house all the time. Following through on consequences will always be very important, but you won’t need to prove yourself every day like you do when children are little.
Your authority never changes. The way you express that authority should change. During the elementary years, the way to express authority is to simply acknowledge that you've been given the assignment of being the grown up. You’re there to make sure consequences reach their full conclusion when poor choices are made, and you are the decision maker when final decisions need to be made.