Creative Child

Love and Limits

by Rebecca Eanes

Page 2

How to Strike the Balance

You’ve probably heard of Brene Brown, the shame researcher from the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She does more than study shame; she studies vulnerability, belonging, and connection. She is the author of several best-selling books, the most recent of which is Rising Strong, and she gave that famous TED Talk seen by millions. Her research has brought to light some really significant truths, one of which is that we are born for connection. In her book, Daring Greatly, Brown says this:

Connection is why we're here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The power that connection holds in our lives was confirmed when the main concern about connection emerged as the fear of disconnection; the fear that something we have done or failed to do, something about who we are or where we come from, has made us unlovable and unworthy of connection.”

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Without that parent-child connection, children are often left feeling unlovable and unworthy of connection. This explains why children of authoritarian parents are less happy and have lower self-esteem. Family is about more than rules and consequences; it’s a place where you belong, a place where you are loved, valued, and known. There must be responsiveness, warmth, and tenderness not tied to behavior or achievement, but given without conditions because this is the most basic need of the human heart.

On the other hand, children also need an authority figure. Dr. Gordon Neufeld of The Neufeld Institute talks about "the attachment dance." He says that when two people are attached (in the right relationship), there is a caring alpha (the caretaker) and a dependent (one who is being taken care of). In adult relationships, such as marriage, this dynamic is constantly changing. The roles switch between the two partners, depending on the circumstances. When one needs to be taken care of, the other steps up as the caring alpha, and vice versa.

In the parent-child relationship, however, it should always be that the parent is the caring alpha and the child is the dependent. What we are seeing is more and more alpha children who have been given the lead because parents are going too far in the other direction and becoming permissive. It’s important to point out here that he describes the alpha role not as a dominant position seeking control but as a caring leader.

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For children to truly thrive and reach their highest potential, they need both a strong connection (lots of love, responsiveness, and affection) and a caring leader (firm boundaries, rules, and expectations). Bridgett Miller, a Neufeld Institute facilitator and creator of Look with Love, says “Limits held firmly but gently provide children with opportunities for adaption, and with adaption comes resilience in time.”

Balancing Acts:

  1. Sit down together with your family and create a mission statement or code of conduct. This involves all voices in the family and makes clear your goals and expectations.
  2. Hold children accountable with consistent, gentle correction when conduct gets off balance. Time-in, problem-solving, and consequences that teach are kind and effective ways to maintain boundaries.
  3. Learn more about the alpha/dependent roles with Who’s In Charge by Deborah MacNamara and the alpha children course by The Neufeld Institute.
  4. Provide unconditional love, affection, and warmth. Learn your child’s love language and speak it fluently. Too much love doesn’t spoil. 
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Additional reading:

What’s Wrong with Strict Parenting?

Positive Parenting: Better Behavior Without Punishment Is Possible

Disconnected: The Trap of Conventional Parenting and How to Get Out of It

Rebecca Eanes, is the founder of and creator of Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond. She is the bestselling author of 3 books. Her newest book,Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, is more than a parenting book, it's a guide to human connection. She has also written The Newbie's Guide to Positive Parentingand co-authored the book, Positive Parenting in Action: The How-To Guide to Putting Positive Parenting Principles in Action in Early ChildhoodShe is the grateful mother to 2 boys.


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