The other day my son had a sore on his lip. He has had these sores on and off throughout his life. He knows that we have medicine that will stop the spread of the virus, but he also knows that the medicine hurts. When I saw the sore, I told him that I was going to put the medicine on it. He screamed and pulled away. Eventually, after trying to reason with him, I tolds him that as much as I did not want to, his father and I would need to force him to put the medicine on because a) it would save him long-term pain, and b) it would protect others from the spread of the virus.
In the end, we did need to force him to put the medicine on, and he cried and complained–for a very short time. As much as he protested, he understood the decision that we made. He knew that we were doing it for his own protection. And in the end, it reaffirmed his knowledge that we were there to keep him safe, even if it was not always easy.
The most important lesson in psychologically safe parenting is that parents are not their children’s friends. So often, parents are afraid to set limits and say “no” because they are afraid that they will not be liked. Being liked is not the job of a parent, keeping children safe is. Kids feel safer when they are given clear and predictable limits from adults. It is a child’s job to complain about these limits. Once parents understand this and are given permission to set limits, children feel safer.
Years ago, I had an instructor who told us that as teachers we should not smile until January. If we smile, she argued, we would not be able to comand respect and, therefore, classroom control. That is rediculous. Just because you are not your child’s friend, does not mean that you can not have fun. In fact, it is quite the opposite. When you are able to draw the line and set limits, the “fun” that you have with your children will be even greater.