“You’ll do it my way, or else!”
“You can do anything you want.”
“I really don’t care what you do.”
“I’m listening. I care about you. I want to understand. This time we’ll do it this way because…”
It is beneficial for children/students to be disciplined within a framework of love as expressed in acceptance and affection. Limits are parameters in which the children/ students can operate safely and securely. Proper limits allow them to experiment, grow, and develop. Without parameters, they have no solid basis on which to make sound decisions, and that leads to confusion and chaos. Children/students need firm limits, but these limits have to be built upon love.
We need a proper balance of love and limits. Acceptance and affection are the love half of the equation. On the other side, we place two balancing factors: accountability and loving authority, the limits or rules by which the family lives. However, love must come first. Love is what makes rules palatable and beneficial.
Children/Students do not respond to rules; they respond to relationships. We can get our children/students to behave by enforcing the rules. We can control them to a certain point by running a tight ship, but that does not necessarily mean we are getting their loving and obedient response. What we are getting is their reaction, which may look like obedience on the surface, but beneath there is fear, frustration, and anger. We strive to hold our children/students accountable and use authority lovingly and fairly. Hence, parents/teachers need to take a relational approach.
In general, there are five bases of social power: reward power, coercive power, expert power, positional power, and referent power. Reward power and coercive power can be used to manipulate behaviours through praise and punishment respectively. Expert power is based on one’s technical knowledge and skills, and its range is limited to a specific domain. Positional power is based on the expected cultural norms, values, and social structure. Referent power exercises relational authority which influences positive changes and growth in children/students. Of the five bases of power, referent power brings the most powerful and long-lasting impacts.
“Do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4) Indeed, we need His word for guidance in setting the proper limits at home and at school.