Parents must set limits and consequences, ministry day speaker says

Categories: Around the Diocese

Oct. 11, 2013, edition
By Sue Schulzetenberg-Gully

It is the children’s job to push limits and the parents’ job to set them, child development expert David Walsh told about 800 educators, youth ministers and parents during his Sept. 30 presentation at Diocesan Ministry Day in St. Cloud.

davidwalshIn the authoritative parenting style of limits and consequences, the parent needs to let the child know what the expectations and limits are. The parent then needs to make sure the child knows the consequences if he or she chooses to break the limits and follow up on the consequences if needed.

“The word ‘choice’ is important,” Walsh said. “This may sound easy but anybody who worked with kids in the real world knows that it’s not that easy.”

Walsh explained challenges and strategies for parents, youth leaders and teachers during his talk on “Forming Kids in a Culture of ‘More, Fast, Easy and Fun,’ ”

at Diocesan Ministry Day and again to about 300 people in another talk that evening. His talks were sponsored by the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota Juvenile Officers Association, Central Minnesota General Fund of the Central Minnesota Community Foundation, St. Cloud Police and Resource Training & Solutions.

Learning what ‘no’ means

Walsh told the story of his son who did not want to eat his supper. He told his son that if he chose not to eat his supper, then he chose not to have a Dairy Queen treat.

His son said he did not care because he did not like Dairy Queen and did not eat his supper. Later, however, when the family went to Dairy Queen for treats, the son said he wanted a vanilla cone. When he was told “no,” that he chose not to have a cone because he chose not to eat his supper, the little boy went into a meltdown.

Although Walsh was tempted to give the boy a cone, doing so would not have taught him anything.

“Then he would have learned that ‘no’ doesn’t mean ‘no,’ it just means escalate,” Walsh said.

Setting limits and consequences can help children internalize and make good decisions themselves, Walsh said. This style of parenting is different than the authoritarian view in which children obey out of fear because the parent said so. When complying out of fear, the child is likely to break the limits when no longer under their strict parents’ supervision, like at college.

It is also different than the laissez-faire parenting technique, which lets children set their own limits. This t echnique does not work either because children usually do not set their own limits, Walsh said.

Saying ‘no’ to one’s self

Walsh also recalled an ice cream experience from his childhood. Walsh asked his mother if he could have an ice cream treat from the ice cream man.

She said “No.”

He said, “How about the 7 cent popsicle? Surely, you can afford 7 cents.”

She said, “Of course I can afford 7 cents. That has nothing to do with it. I want you to learn you don’t always get what you want.”

Walsh said that teaching kids self-control, helping them say “no” to themselves, can be a key success factor. He referenced the marshmallow experiment in which children were given one marshmallow. They could either eat the marshmallow or wait 15 minutes and then receive another marshmallow. The children who waited for the second marshmallow tended to be more successful in school, adjustment, happiness and popularity.

Today it can be especially difficult to teach children “no” because of the culture of more, fast, easy and fun, Walsh said.

“In a short term of relief of giving kids what they want, we pay a long-term price,” he said. “We know life does deal challenge and frustration. We want our kids to be able to handle that.”

Also challenging children’s executive function, which is the ability to coordinate input from multiple brain circuits and systems, is early childhood stress overload, sleep deficits and unregulated and overuse of media, he said.

Still, despite the challenges, parenting is not impossible, Walsh said.

Recipe for success

Kids need three critical ingredients to help foster character traits: connection, guidance and love, he said.

“Those of you who work with teenagers know that loving a teenager can be a delayed gratification experience,” he said. “The reward comes when those kids grow up to be kids with character that we can be proud of.”

Walsh said that raising kids is not a problem but rather a mystery the adults and kids can answer together.

“To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, ‘There are places to go and fun to be done,’ ” he said. “Thanks to your help, as people who work with kids day in and day out in various capacities, the game can be won.”