We’ve all witnessed those terrible scenes at the grocery store. The kid is starting to get whiny, obviously tired of shopping. He sees the candy on the checkout stand and starts to whine even more.
“Mom, pleeeeeease can I have one?” The mom, not wanting to spoil her child, lovingly declines.
The whining only gets louder.
Pretty soon, it’s turned into an all-out power struggle. Stamping of feet, screaming, tears, the works!
This time, the child wins. He happily munches on a Kit-Kat, satisfied — for now.
While it’s natural to be embarrassed for that poor parent, we all can relate to these types of situations. We don’t want to be the bad guy, but we also don’t want our children to be spoiled. How can we find a balance between showing love for our child while enforcing healthy limits?
I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve drawn upon research and prophetic principles to find three keys to balanced parenting.
1. Listen with love
As a child, I had some issues with managing emotions. If anyone could make a mountain out of a molehill, it was me. One minute I’d be happily playing, but the next minute — catastrophe!
Thankfully, my mom learned a parenting principle that changed everything around for me: listening. When she saw a situation start to sour, she would reflect back to me the emotions she had observed. (For example, “That must really hurt your feelings when your sisters don’t want to play with you!”)
The renowned child researcher Haim Ginott said, “When children feel understood, their loneliness and hurt diminish. . . . A parent’s sympathy serves as emotional first aid for bruised feelings.”
When we show our children that we love them and understand their feelings, we can build a relationship of trust. This foundation of love makes it a lot easier to provide necessary limits and guidance.
2. Consistently enforce limits
Of course children need to feel heard and understood. But children also need to have consistent structure and limits in order to develop healthily.
Dr. Anita Landau Hurtig explains why consistency is so important: “Children need people and rules that they can depend on because that’s how they build value systems and expectations.”
Parents are there to guide their children, setting reasonable and consistent limits. Perhaps if the mom in the store had a limit in place beforehand, such as treats are for after dinner, then the situation would have been a little more manageable.
3. Offer appropriate choices
Children need to learn how to make appropriate choices. But how can they learn if we always make the choices for them?
Dr. Craig C. Hart explains, “parents need to prepare their children in small steps . . . for the day when they eventually leave home. Parents facilitate this process by giving children a measure of latitude appropriate to their maturity.”
When children are young, choices should be simple and appropriate, such as “Would you like an apple or an orange?” As kids get older, choices may be more significant. Offering choices within acceptable limits teaches children how to make choices on their own in the future.
Balancing it All
Sometimes it may seem overwhelming to worry about all the different aspects of parenting. And it’s likely even more overwhelming when you’re in the grocery store and your child is throwing a temper tantrum for one reason or another.
But in the long run, a warm and loving relationship combined with a healthy amount of limits will do wonders for your child. So choose one area to work on, and focus on getting closer to that balance every day!