Who’s in Charge?

By Wendy Hoffman, LCSW-C

These days it seems as if children have the upper hand in many families.  Children are making their own rules in the home, and parents are letting them get away with it.

Sometimes it’s hard to exert our authority as parents.   Coming into conflict with our children can feel uncomfortable, especially when they are nagging, insistently making their wants known, or challenging us.  So we tend to take the path of least resistance and give in.

Some parents want to be their kids’ “pal” or friend; they try to avoid being seen as “the bad guy.”  Another reason why parents may cede authority stems from the desire to see their offspring do in life what their parents have not achieved. This expectation puts a different kind of pressure on the child, a pressure to be “special.”  These attitudes may make parents more eager to please their children.

Our intentions are good: we all want our children to be happy.  So it can be easy to lose sight of the line between healthy indulgences and spoiling our kids.

The problem is that letting children do whatever they want can create some big challenges for both parents and children.  Today’s eight- year- olds who are not asked to do any chores, who  refuse to eat anything but their favorite processed food, and who get any toy they ask for become tomorrow’s teenagers who expect their parents to do their laundry, make their lunches, chauffeur them about, and pay their bills

Parents may think a laissez-faire atmosphere at home will instill devotion and love in children, but it doesn’t.   Instead, it creates anxiety.  Children don’t yet know how to regulate themselves, much less a household.  They don’t yet know how to make decisions that are good for their health and well-being.  They become filled with anxiety when no one is setting limits or saying “no.”   Children need to know that someone is in charge.

A feeling of belonging quells anxiety.  Contributing to a household, which is really a little community, increases a child’s sense of belonging.  Start by having children do for themselves what they are capable of:

  • Teach small children to put away toys and keep their rooms in order.
  • Expect older children to do their own laundry.
  • Teach consideration.  For example, children should ask if you are available to drive them some place.
  • Have children pitch in with household chores such as walking the dog, preparing a vegetable or salad for dinner, clearing the table, loading the dishwasher, and taking out the trash.
  • Eat dinner together as a family as often as possible.  This is an opportunity to talk about events in everyone’s day and occasionally to discuss important issues such as world news or what charities are worthwhile.  Family dinners can really enhance that feeling of belonging.

Children who are allowed to rule the roost become adults who feel entitled, are never satisfied, and have trouble dealing with rejection.  But when parents see themselves as the leaders of the family, they can give the clear limits and guidance that their children need so that they grow up into adults with a realistic sense of how the world operates.  Children raised in this kind of home become people who can take responsibility, do things competently by themselves, are accountable for their actions, and respect and appreciate others.

By Wendy Hoffman, LCSW-C, Therapy Services, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD

Questions about parenting?  Send an email to parenttalk@jcsbaltimore.org.  For more information on parenting click here or call 410-466-9200.

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