Parenting is hard. Bringing up children is the most important responsibility of a parent, and doing so only gets harder with each passing year. As we progress into a world that is larger, darker, and more scary than ever before, preparing our children to be upstanding citizens is more and more difficult.
Children often have a tendency to not listen, and the discipline that was enforced in older generations at the end of a stick can no longer be done with such unrefined methods. And perhaps this is a good thing, for the environment for children is more supportive and conducive to high achievement today than it ever has been.
Children are individuals, distinct in their own rights from their parents and therein lies the root of parent-child strife. The temptation to regard a child as an extension of the self – or worse, as a plaything to be moulded as per their desires is at the root of most parent-child conflicts. In order to achieve this, it is essential that rather than preaching to them by telling them what to do and what not to, a better idea would be to teach them the difference between good and bad, right and wrong.
Evolving an ability for critical thinking is an essential life skill for any child, and it is through teaching children to make the right decisions that this sense will evolve. A preaching approach focuses on the negatives – laying down prohibitions. Rather, explaining the concept of cause and effect, action and consequence, establishing thereby the linkage between doing what is right and reaping the rewards, as against doing what is wrong and suffering for it in the long run, is more likely to lead to a positive, long-term benefit for the child. In fact, the only skill that is developed by enforcing good behaviour through rules rather than examples is obedience, and blind obedience might be wonderful for soldiers, but in civil society it is responsible for a lot of the worst excesses of the state.
Another reason why preaching often ends up being counter-productive is that one-way communication dilutes the message. We all had that friend whose father / mother had a reputation for being ‘strict’ and who shouted at him all the time, making him a meek little lamb at home. This same person was often the most undisciplined, devil-may-care individual outside, for the value of this ‘strict’ parent’s words were often diluted by their constant and consistent hammering down into the recipient’s brain. My own personal experience is of a cousin who one told his mother, quite frankly, that he ‘filtered out’ her voice.
The best teaching is by example. Simple to say but difficult to do, yet undoubtedly children learn the most though imitation and it is by seeing what their parents do that they will be encouraged to follow in their footsteps. When the teaching of a parent is brought out in his or her actions, day and day out, it is far more important than a preacher who says ‘Do as I say not as I do.’ Human beings are animals, and what we see is more important to us than what we hear.
Finally, preaching has an element of anger in it. It is associated with a righteous wrath, of being at a higher level, bearing down upon the listener, imposing the law. Teaching is participative, a relationship with a mentor, gentler and more loving, as a parent-child relationship ought to be.
As parents, it is important that we weigh the long-term benefits of our approach to our children and make the right choice.