Of the four major delivery systems for discipline—guidance, supervision, structure, and working the exchange points—guidance is the most influential because it offers the most instructional power. The purpose of guidance is to guide the child with the best understanding you can provide. This is accomplished by giving constant feedback about which choices the child is making that are working well and which choices are not. Emphasize the child’s range of choice and you are likely to receive cooperation.
Guidance is how parents support good decisions, to discourage bad ones, to advise, to inform, to editorialize, and to educate about life. Children who are blessed with a parent who is not afraid to speak up always know where that parent stands, always have an adult reference to guide them, and always can count on an honest response to how they are conducting their lives.
Communication is the most powerful source of parental influence in general, and it’s the most powerful response to an infraction that parents have to give. Your constant guidance is not designed to control the child’s choice but to continually inform the child’s choice about what good lessons can be learned from bad experiences and what is wise. The best parents never abdicate their rights of speaking up.
Why Children Resist Guidance
With a strong-willed child, parental guidance can be resisted and resented on the principle of independence. “You don’t have to tell me! I know all about it! I don’t have to be told! I don’t need your opinion! I can figure it out!” Self-determined to be left to his own devices, the willful child doesn’t want the parent butting in. But interfering with a mature perspective is a parent’s job. Otherwise, the child will be left at the mercy of personal ignorance and the ignorance of peers.
“What’s the point of giving guidance if my child doesn’t want to hear what I say, doesn’t understand the importance of what I say, doesn’t agree with what I say, and doesn’t do what I say? Why waste the words?”
It is never a waste to give guidance to your child, because children always listen to their parents. Whether the child wants to hear what you have to say, understands the importance of what you say, agrees with what you say, or actually does what you say has no bearing on the value of the guidance you give. The value of parental guidance is the mature, caring, adult frame of reference for making decisions and the perspective for sorting out what is happening in the child’s world. The first purpose of guidance is for parents to define for the child what they believe and where they stand.
Parental guidance is in the business of informing the child’s understanding, not controlling the child’s choice. Your wise, informed experience carries weight.
How to give guidance to a willful child is the issue. You don’t want to give guidance in any way that is likely to make the child defensive. So refrain from criticism, argument, worry, anger, threats, and emotional upset in general. These will not keep the child from hearing what you have to say, but they will reduce the likelihood of following what you have to say.
Effective guidance is not in the business of forcing your opinion or changing the child’s mind. Thus, instead of challenging the child’s belief, formed by trusted middle school peer informants, that inhalants can’t do any harm, simply offer an alternative perspective: “I understand what you’ve been told. Here is another way to think about huffing inhalants. Good scientific research has shown that those chemicals can permanently damage the brain. Just so you know.”
Creating Talking Points
Because the willful child is so insistent on self-determination, he is apt to be defensive when making a mistake or having a problem, treating the parental response as a criticism for not taking care of business effectively. “I know, I know! Just get the punishment over with. I don’t want to talk about it!” The willful child just wants to be done with the correction, omit the discussion, and go on about his business.
But correction should never be the primary consequence when a willful child gets into difficulty or commits an infraction. The primary consequence needs to be communication and instruction, extracting guidance from an unhappy situation by turning what happened into a talking point so the child can learn from hard experience. “I will let you know later about what restitution you need to make for what you did. First, you and I will discuss how you got into that situation, what led you to make that decision, and how you can avoid getting into that kind of trouble again. Although I wish this hadn’t happened, since it did, I want you to be able to learn all you can from the experience so you’ll be better informed from now on.”