Establishing Rules: A Generous Gift

Establishing Rules: A Generous Gift

I love the story about the little girl who desperately wanted a bicycle for her birthday.  Every night she would kneel beside her bed and pray, asking to make sure she received this special gift.  Her mother and father were dismayed.  They could not afford the item, and they dreaded her inevitable disappointment would damage to her budding faith.

When the little girl’s birthday arrived, she got cake, a doll, and a warm sweater – but no bicycle.  Fearing the worst, her parents gently inquired, “Are you upset that God didn’t hear your prayers?”  Their daughter was completely unfazed by the question.  She simply smiled, shrugged her shoulders, then matter-of-factly replied, “He heard my prayers.  He just said no.”

The lesson of this story should be clear.  Although their demands tend to be abundant and adamant, children are able to accept a negative response from authority figures.  Regrettably, some parents appear to take this tale too literally.  They seem to believe the power to refuse the requests of their offspring is reserved exclusively for the Almighty.

Raising kids has never been easy, and there are factors in today’s world that can make doing the right thing even more difficult than ever before.  So when a power struggle erupts, it is so much easier to accept the exuberant embrace evoked by an “okay” than the bitter tantrum that may follow a “not now.” 

Nevertheless, while the inclination to accommodate a little one’s impulsive and/or inappropriate desires is understandable, failing to check that inclination is inexcusable.  By not permitting their child to develop the capacity to tolerate frustration and accept delayed gratification, parents will ironically deny themselves precisely the same pleasure.  Whatever brief, superficial affection they gain by surrendering is dwarfed by the long-term, genuine fondness they would have generated by holding the fort.

As any psychologist will testify, we ultimately judge our happiness and success not by power and possessions, but rather by self-esteem and the esteem of others.  A kid who is encouraged to believe that the immediate satisfaction of all her wants and whims is fine with everyone will grow up to be someone who is neither liked nor admired by anyone – including herself.

Establishing and enforcing rules for correct conduct rarely constitutes an enjoyable experience for either the child or the parents.  But the momentary discomfort of administering whatever lessons may be necessary is miniscule when compared to the eventual pay-off.  In the overall scheme of development, there is no gift more valuable for a child to receive or any act more generous for her parents to perform.