Like most parents, I was shocked when I heard the news that the family members of a 6-year old Missouri boy were involved with his alleged kidnapping and confinement in order to create a fear of strangers.
How could anyone purposefully scare a child, especially those who are supposed to love and care for that child, just to teach a life lesson?
That was my first thought which slowly wandered into that part of parenting I don’t like to talk about, a part many of us have.
I too have used fear as a way to get my kids to co-operate, learn a lesson or just evoke some sort of authority when my patience has worn thin.
Of course, my methods never physically harmed my kids but what emotional harm comes from this tactic?
The biggest beef I have with using fear and guilt to get kids to behave and deter them from misbehaving is it’s teaching your kids that fear and guilt are an acceptable way to get what you want.
Fear, guilt, and shame are some of the most destructive emotions we can feel as humans.
Source: Parenting by the Minute
This obvious logic never occurs to me at the time when I want to get out the door or I genuinely worry I’ve ill prepared my kids.
Use fear against my kids you wonder?
Call it Bad Parenting (if you want)
It’s not something I’m proud of but I have pulled this tactic out on more than one occasion.
Ensuring I’ve prepared my kids to face their own independence
Don’t talk to strangers. Pay attention to who is around you.
Stay in a crowd. Don’t take short cuts.
If my husband was to run down this list of threat assessment statements before I set out to an evening event I would be a bag of nerves.
Yet I’ve done this to my own daughter. There’s a fine line between teaching our kids to be safe and making them fearful of the world outside our comfort zone.
Moving self-care into their own hands
At some point kids need to take responsibility for their own personal grooming like brushing their hair, cleaning their hands, and brushing their teeth. My youngest child often struggles in this category.
My logic is she doesn’t see a consequence of avoiding self-care.
That’s my role right?
More then a few times I’ve told the scary story of the big needle and the dentist drill should she not take care of her teeth.
But what happens when the inevitable occurs and a cavity is detected? Fear and panic in the dentist chair.
Dealing with sibling rivalry
Many times my kids get along, playing together without incident, but some days I want to run away to the nearest coffee shop and pretend I have had no motherhood responsibility.
I love them dearly but some of the bickering over ridiculous things (ridiculous to me, not to them obviously) can try my parenting patience.
It’s so easy to toss out that age-old “wait until your father gets home”.
But what does that accomplish? Perhaps they stop fighting but now their unsuspecting dad is portrayed as the villain, the bad guy, someone to not mess with or make mistakes around.
Even holidays, a period of joy and fun, are not immune. In some cases, they encourage this fear toting parenting tactic.
“ You’ll get coal in your stocking and no gifts under the tree if you don’t start behaving.”
“The tooth fairy doesn’t accept rotten teeth so you better take care of them to avoid receiving nothing.”
“The Easter Bunny only leaves chocolate for the kids who give-up something for the whole season of Lent.”
I’m not saying follow my parenting example.
I’m not saying you would resort to the same tactics. I am saying that using fear and guilt, no matter how unwise, can sometimes sneak into our parenting behavior.
Have Patience Parenting
With your kids AND with yourself.
I wish I had the patience of a saint and the problem skills of a social worker but it’s just me.
Most times I feel bad after employing these tactics or sometimes reason hits me and I see the negative possibilities beyond my immediate actions. It’s not uncommon to hear me apologize and try to find a different route but I can’t say I’ve ditched fear completely.
I know it’s not the best parenting option and I am trying but it does remind me not to judge another parent too harshly in any aspect (albeit criminal behavior doesn’t fall within this category) as none of us our experts.
We read expert opinions and hear many tell tales of wonderfully controlled and peaceful family upbringings but the rest of us struggle.
Struggle with decisions and guilt and lack of patience and just wishing we had all the answers to avoid making mistakes that will lead to therapy sessions for our kids later in life.
Go ahead and criticize or even judge my behavior as bad parenting.
I accept that even after three kids childrearing is still a big unknown for me but know you’re not alone. If you struggle with guilt about using fear or losing patience over behavior, you are not alone.
As parents we make mistakes, all parents.
All we can do is increase our awareness, try different tactics and show our kids we love them and that even as adults and parents we make mistakes.