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Out of control

KATE BARBER reflects on her parenting values after attending a presentation on ‘Guiding Children’s Behaviour’, by Australian child psychologist, DR LOUISE PORTER.

With two wonderfully wilful young girls, the title of Louise Porter’s seminar appealed. Looking around, it clearly spoke to the concerns of many others.

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In her presentation Louise examined two styles of parenting, ‘Controlling Discipline’ and ‘Guidance’, and the fundamental values and beliefs about children that align with each.

The ‘Controlling Discipline’ model is rooted in a belief that children can’t be trusted, and that they are motivated by external stimuli; and it aligns with the value that ultimately the adult is the boss, that children need to respect (even fear) them. The basic objective is that the child will do as they are told. (If only, I caught myself thinking.)

Louise contrasts this with ‘Guidance’ where the overarching objective is to guide the child so that they learn how to behave in ways that are considerate of others – which is not the same as unquestioningly submitting to parental authority. While the adult is the leader, with expertise and wisdom, their role is not to manipulate or coerce – because children should have equal opportunities for self-determination and expression.

‘It requires a shift in mindset – where the focus is on guiding children so that they recognise the impact, good and bad, of their actions on others, rather than simply trying to control our kids’, says Louise.

The parenting strategies she discusses are in our parenting repertoire already, but it takes plenty of practice: because, when you add stress and exhaustion and shopping for groceries to the mix, it isn’t always easy to respond with equanimity and grace. There are times we all want to scream!

Louise also challenges our ‘commonsense’ practice of dishing out rewards and punishments. It’s a challenging notion: to think that sugary treats given as rewards may be problematic at a level deeper than tooth enamel; but, as Louise explains, ‘when adults administer consequences, either positive or negative, they are in control of children’.

And what’s wrong with that? Well, children have a deep need to be self-determining, and external control can elicit resistance, rebellion and retaliation, says Louise, which is particularly likely in ‘spirited’ children. Ultimately, she says, dishing out consequences encourages children to think of their behaviour in terms of what they will earn or lose, rather than in terms of its effect on others.

When I got home, I crept into my daughters’ bedrooms and gave them each a kiss. When they are asleep, my spirited little ones look so peaceful; and, in those quiet moments, parenting seems so simple.


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