Taking a
Taking a "firm hand” in raising children can easily backfire.

The desire to produce 'real men' can backfire

KAREN CLARKE, director of Powerful Positive People, helps adults and children develop resilience as a confidence and performance coach. Her book, From Bullied To Brilliant, was launched on National Day of Action against Bullying. She has a deep understanding of bullying and social isolation from her own experiences as an expatriate in West Africa. Today she explores the dangers of using a firm hand in child raising.

FATHER: "My children will not suffer fools gladly. I am raising strong children who know the difference between right and wrong, who know how to stand up for themselves and will never be pushed around.”

Questioner: "How are you doing that?”

Father: "I am going to make sure they never put a foot wrong while they live under my roof. I rule with an iron fist and an iron will. Nobody gets the better of me and my children will learn the same way I did. The hard way.”

Questioner: "So you are going to push them around and force your version of right and wrong on them and they had better submit or else ...?”

Father: "Yes.”

Questioner: "But I thought you said your children don't suffer fools ...”

As we progress in our understanding of the dominance/submissive pattern that exists in many human interactions, we need to look closely at how we program our children from an early age.

We live in a society which suggests that bullying in the school and workplace is unacceptable yet defends the right to use abuse and corporal punishment in the home.

Diminishing or subjugating another is a violation of human rights and corporal punishment of children is considered a crime in around 37 countries around the world.

My father's generation were not so au fait with parenting with confidence and self-esteem in mind, and even if they were, would have almost certainly dismissed it out of hand.

Many men of his era were still struggling with the concept of "women's lib” and did not consider raising children as something that required great thought.

Karen Clarke, author of From Bullied To Brilliant..
Karen Clarke. Contributed

Some were under the impression that boys needed toughening up through force and harshness for them to become "real men”. For many children, including my father, this had unwelcome, painful and sometimes damaging results.

If you prefer the more controlled approach and raise your children to be obedient, submissive and to accept your authority in all things, then be aware that a power for dominion approach programs children to accept the authority of, and obedience and submission to, another person.

This may work well for parents in the early years but consider the repercussions once the child begins to step away from the parental umbrella with a strong unconscious pattern/need to find someone of authority to tell them what to do.

That person may well be a school bully, a dominant or aggressive teacher or mentor, or even an abusive future spouse.

This can be especially problematic if the person that they have formed an allegiance to does not actually value or love your child.

To raise independent and free-willed children, consider focusing on their innate knowledge and insight and encourage them to value, believe in and honour themselves.

A strong sense of self-belief, trust in their own inherent intuition and the ability to make good choices are attributes that need to be developed in childhood. You don't beat confidence, self-esteem and personal power into children, you beat it out of them.

The rather glaring flaw in the power for dominion approach is that if you are raising sons with the intention to physically dominate and intimidate them into submission, there is in all likelihood a moment when they will become bigger, stronger and potentially taller than you are.

If you are relying on physical presence and strength to get your own way, you may well find yourself backed into a corner, both metaphorically and physically speaking.

This lesson was learned the hard way by a friend of ours with twin sons who at a certain point in time (probably around the time they grew to over two metres tall) decided that Dad no longer had the physical advantage and promptly picked him up, turned him upside down and told him enough was enough.

These young men and their father were thankfully loving, kind and in possession of a remarkably good sense of humour. As a consequence, their relationship mutated into one based more on mutual respect and less of the turning people upside down.

For many, this is not the case.

Dads, take heed. There are other, far more beneficial ways to care for and raise sons. If you wish to keep your feet on the ground and have a healthy and mutually respectful relationship, improve your communication skills.

Intimidation and dominance can be damaging - even if the intention is loving.

Positive outcomes will be difficult to achieve if a child has been intimidated into either submission (repressed negative emotion) or rebelliousness (expressed negative emotion).

Intimidation and dominance tend to bring out two major emotions - fear and anger. If felt strongly, fear and anger can both cause a child to develop hidden resentment, submission or inhibition.

Generally, children do not have the life experience, intuition or wisdom to see past their dominant parents' behaviour. They will find it hard to discover a strong sense of self-worth if they are being regularly intimidated and dominated.

Empowerment, optimism, creativity, enthusiasm and self-worth do not grow from underlying anger or fear. They are the result of a strong sense of self-confidence, of feeling valued, valuable and loved regardless of personality, behaviour or capability.

Many parents' and educators' deepest and most heartfelt intention is to raise children who feel empowered, are full of optimism and have an innate ability to deal with life's challenges.

They want children to have a strong sense of self-worth and hold firm the belief that they possess all the information they require to lead full and successful lives.

They wish to help children be emotionally strong and independent of spirit, able to attract and create great relationships with people who respect and honour their opinion, beliefs and dreams.

No parent is equipped with all the information or knowledge required to raise a happy and integrated adult. Each child is different, as is each adult.

Our interpretations, needs and desires are unique and as such there is no one on this planet who is sufficiently equipped to teach us all we need to know.

Parents, you are off the hook. You are free to allow your children to grow into independent individuals.

You are not an expert in your child and you do not have to feel entirely responsible for their happiness and well-being. Now breathe a sigh of relief, stop yelling and get on with enjoying your journey through life together.

These action steps will help you on your way:

  • Tell your children you love them, daily.
  • Turn off your technology and be present with your family as often as possible.
  • Look directly into their eyes when you speak to them.
  • Tell them they are unique, powerful, different and glorious in their difference.
  • Encourage them to trust their gut feelings and believe in themselves even in the face of opposition.
  • Teach them to follow their dreams and their hearts.
  • Admit to them you do not have all the answers and that you may sometimes be wrong.
  • Ask for their forgiveness when you make a mistake.

    Hug them whenever possible (or as often as they permit).

    Respect their choices even if you don't like them.

    Recognise that at some point in time they may well be able to turn you upside down.

    Plan accordingly.

The pathways for dominant or submissive behaviours are initially formed in the home. If you wish to raise empowered and happy kids, then empower and encourage them. Ask their opinion, treat them with respect, admiration and love.

They won't be children for long.