- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 10, 2007

I have said this many times before, but I cannot say it often enough: Discipline is leadership. It is not punishment-ship, reward-ship or consequence-ship.

It is the process by which parents transform a self-centered child who thinks he rules the known universe into a disciple — a child who will look up to them, subscribe to their values and follow their lead.

The principles that define effective leadership do not change from one leadership environment to another. Leadership is leadership. If you know how to lead in a business setting, you know how to lead a child.

In this regard, effective leaders are not defined in terms of how well they manipulate consequences. First and foremost, they are effective communicators. They communicate in such a way that the people they lead believe in them, believe in their mission and believe in themselves.

Thus, effective leaders bring out the best in people. In addition, they are decisive. They say what they mean, and they mean what they say.

When a parent tells me his or her child “won’t take no for an answer,” I know that the problem is not with the child. I know I am talking to a parent who is impaired in his or her leadership — a parent who cannot say no and stand firm in the face of the child’s displeasure. This is a parent who, as is the custom nowadays, has encouraged the child to gamble on tantrums.

As is the case with adult slow learners and slot machines, a child who discovers that tantrums pay off just 20 percent of the time will continue to throw tantrums.

I enjoy taking polls in my audiences, which are not cross sections of American parents but rather cross sections of American parents who want to be the best parents they are capable of being. Generally speaking, they are people who don’t mind when I step on their toes. One such poll is in two parts:

Part One: “Raise your hand if you can say, without the slightest qualification or reservation, that your children know that when you say no, you absolutely mean no.”

In a recent audience of about 150 in Atlanta, no one raised a hand. Even in much larger audiences, no more than one or two hands will go up.

Part Two: “Raise your hand if your parents would have raised their hands a moment ago.”

In Atlanta, as is always the case, more than half of the folks present raised a hand, to which I said, “You were undoubtedly a less stressful and more well-behaved child than is your child or children, not because your parents manipulated consequences more effectively than you are doing but because when they took a stand, they stood firm.

“Likewise, the problems you are having with your children are not going to be solved by clever behavior-modification strategies. [Your children] are going to begin coming around when you begin behaving more like your parents, which is to say, when you begin behaving like effective leaders.”

Today’s parents, by and large, do not like to upset their children. Parents of 50-plus years ago did not care if their children became upset by decisions they made.

Today’s parents want their children to like them. Parents of old did not care whether their children liked them at any given moment or not. Today’s parents often act as if they’re running for office. Yesterday’s parents acted as if they held an office and deserved it.

As we look toward the 2008 elections, we should keep in mind that politicians do not often make good leaders, whether of adults or children.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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