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Why Firmness Doesn’t Require Harshness

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When it comes to disciplining children, one of the most important parenting skills a mom can learn is summed up in these few words: firmness doesn’t require harshness. We can get our kids to obey without yelling, shaming, or arguing back and forth.

Dr. Scott Turansky says that too many moms tell themselves, my kids won’t do anything unless I get angry. “This parent,” he says, “is confusing harshness with firmness and they aren’t the same thing.” Firmness says that a boundary is secure and won’t be crossed without a consequence. Harshness, on the other hand, uses angry words to make children believe parents mean what they say. Ask yourself an important question: What cues do you give your kids that you mean business? Is it anger or is it firmness? If you find yourself being harsh, take the time to reevaluate your response. More action and less yelling can go a long way toward bringing about significant change.”

Here are four ways to get good results using firmness instead of harshness.

For some, this is such a new concept that they have trouble grabbing onto it. One mom said, “The thought of separating firmness from harshness is like listening to a foreign language—it sounds nice but doesn’t make any sense.”

How do you make the change to using firmness without harshness? These ideas will help:

1. Dialogue less.

Don’t misunderstand; talking to your kids is good most of the time because it strengthens relationship bonds between parent and child. However, in an attempt to build a relationship, some parents spend too much time dialoguing about instructions. They try to defend their words, persuade their children to do what they’re told, or logically explain the value of obeying. This is often counterproductive and teaches children how to resist more. Parents then resort to anger to end the discussion, complicating matters further.

“But,” one mom said, “I thought talking and showing emotion are signs of a healthy family, leading to closeness in family life.” That is true when they’re used in the right way. Unfortunately, when added to the instruction process, these two ingredients confuse children and don’t give them the clear boundaries they need. These are two good things, just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Making sure your children understand their boundaries, regarding their behavior, helps too.

2. Show less emotion.

Anger works—but at a price. It quiets children, moves them toward the car when it’s time to go and motivates them to clean their room. But anger and harshness have a downside. They build walls of resistance in children and distract from the true issue you’d like to correct.

A good correction routine teaches children that they must change. Unfortunately, the clear message that the child has a problem and needs to work on it is sometimes missed because of parental anger. A parent’s harshness can confuse the learning process. Instead of thinking, I’m here taking a break because I did something wrong, the child thinks, I’m here taking a break because I made Mom mad. Simply put, anger confuses the issue.

3. Firmness requires action, not anger.

Having a toolbox of consequences is important to help move children along in life—it’s not optional.  Some parents use anger as their only consequence and wonder why their children never really learn and adapt their behavior in meaningful and lasting ways. Take the time to study and pray–outside of the stress and emotional charge of an immediate problem–about specific areas of challenge with your children and what particular consequences would motivate them to change and grow. Having better solutions at the ready will decrease the temptation to default to anger to solve the problem next time.

4. When you make a mistake and correct in anger, it’s important to come back to your child and talk about it afterward.

Clarify what was wrong, why the consequence was given, and apologize for your harshness. The inner strength of emotional control not only guides children and builds them up in a positive direction, but it creates greater closeness in relationships.

Proverbs 15:1 is equally perceptive. It says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Keep in mind that harshness gets in the way of the growth you want to see in your children and in your relationships. Choose firm, but loving words, and avoid these 15 things mothers should never say to their children.

What’s your advice for being firm without being harsh?

Dr. Scott Turansky is an author and speaker known for his heartfelt parenting approach. He offers moms practical, real-life advice for many of parenting’s greatest challenges and is the founder of the National Center for Biblical Parenting.


How do you deal with your emotions when you get frustrated?

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