Benevolent Leadership

I almost didn’t share this with you. I don’t like controversy and I wondered whether this may cause some. The printed word can easily be misinterpreted but I hope I can make myself clear.

Last night, my fun-loving, mischievous 4-year-old had to be ‘taught a lesson’. Even those words imply revenge but I must stress that my motive was loving and my mood was calm. So here it is… I shut my 4-year-old in his room until he agreed to cooperate.

I believe that children should have the freedom to govern themselves and control their own affairs as much as possible. I recognise many times in my earlier parenting years when I dictated much of what the children did because it made my life easier or because I believed they should just ‘do as they are told’. Then I came to realise that I don’t want my children to be compliant but rather to fulfil their own desires whilst being considerate of others.

William has a lot of choices: he chooses what to eat (we make sure there are plenty of healthy foods that he likes available); he chooses what to do with his free time ( we ensure there are options to tempt him away from technology); he chooses what to wear (or rather what not to wear as he does prefer being naked). Whenever he has to do something, I try to make it as fun for him as possible and give him choices wherever I can.

There are times though when William’s preferences conflict with those around him. Last night he wanted to sit on his sister’s bed with his bare bottom! They wanted him to wear pants! I tried to get some pants on him but the situation escalated very quickly into him screaming and running away from me. He had a smile on his face and seemed to be enjoying himself. I didn’t want to play and clearly stated that he had to wear pants if he wanted to sit on his sister’s bed. When he continued to scream and try to run back to the bed. I took him by the arm, into his bedroom and shut the door. I was hoping that I could reason with him but even though I am sure he understood, it seemed he wanted the drama. William was enjoying the game and was not motivated to stop.  I have seen this scenario many times whilst watching Super Nanny type programmes and quickly realised that I was in danger of creating a pattern that I did not want to.

I didn’t want to shut him in his room. I began feeling frustrated with William because he was leaving me no option but to do something I didn’t want to do. Then I realised that I wasn’t punishing him or taking out my anger on him, but was teaching him that he couldn’t have what he wanted if it violated someone else’s rights.

Once in his room. I asked him if he would do as he was told. First time his answer was no. Second time, yes. He came out, put his pants on and sat on his sister’s bed. He is a quick learner. This may have been because, the evening before he sat in my chair while I nipped to the loo and wouldn’t let me back on when I returned. He could sit on my knee but no, he wanted the whole chair to himself. He was screaming when I picked him up and began trying to hit me. I picked him up and put him outside the back door. It took 3 attempts before he came back in and didn’t try to take my chair but instead, sat on my knee.

The point I am trying to make is, I want to be a benevolent leader. My motive is love and while I want to give my children as much freedom as possible, ultimately, I have to be in charge. Without strategies in place, I will resort to angry threats or manipulation to try to coerce my children.

Having said all that, I don’t want to abuse my power and I regularly soul search to clarify what I should be firm about. For example, my children are autonomously home educated. That is, my children follow their own interests and educational goals. This has meant different routes for each child but always a satisfactory outcome for them. I believe that left to their own devices they will want to pursue their own interests and do what it takes. I would never try to coerce a child to study with rewards and punishments.

In conclusion, if their behaviour affects only them, I leave them to it (within reason, for example, I didn’t leave my other son to drown when he was convinced he could swim without armbands). If their behaviour affects another, I may have to intervene with a loving, light-touch approach.

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