Love, when it’s healthy, doesn’t hurt. Affection is essential in any parenting process. Love makes children feel loved and protected, so it is the ground where healthy self-esteem and bulletproof self-confidence flourish. However, there are those who interpret it as weakness and others confuse it with permissiveness.
Permissiveness breeds spoiled children
Unfortunately, there are still those who believe that hugging children too much, showing them affection or attending to their complaints will turn them into little tyrants. That is why they apply a Spartan education as soon as possible. They recommend “letting them cry so that they calm down on their own” or “not comforting them so that they become strong”. They think that love spoils.
Many of these popular beliefs come from older generations and make the mistake of confusing displays of love with permissiveness and licentiousness. However, loving does not mean allowing everything. Just as setting rules and enforcing the rules does not mean not loving.
Permissiveness is the soil where grow up spoiled children who dominate their parents, little children who have so much difficulty following the rules that they end up having problems in their interpersonal relationships and in life, often adopting an egocentric, selfish and even narcissistic attitude.
Permissiveness consists in the absence of limits. Permissive parents don’t set rules or don’t enforce them. When parents do not set rules at home, justify their children’s disrespect or let their nonsense and tantrums go by because they think that “they are children’s things” or that “they will learn when they grow up”, they are favoring the consolidation of inappropriate behaviors.
As a result, these parents do not develop sufficient authority over their children. There is a good chance that these children end up being rude, defiant and difficult to live with. Authority, it should be clarified, is not achieved through punishment, shouting, verbal violence or mistreatment. True authority is not based on fear but on respect.
A father has authority over his children when he gains prestige in their eyes. When he becomes a positive reference. When he is a source of love and security. So that child respects his words, pays attention to his behavior and follows the rules of coexistence.
The need to set limits and establish clear rules so as not to spoil children
We all know that children are demanding. They demand attention, they want recognition, and they often defy the limits set by adults. It’s a perfectly normal thing. However, in all these cases, love continues to be the key tool.
Children, especially during the first years of life, need to develop a secure attachment with their parents to establish a solid bond that will accompany them throughout their lives. The basis of that attachment consists in being emotionally available, so that when a baby cries he/she must be attended to and when a child asks something, he/she must receive an answer.
If we don’t pay attention to the crying and we don’t answer his/her questions, the child will try to get our attention in a thousand different ways. It is likely that he/she will act out because he/she realizes that it is the only way to attract his/her parents’ attention. For that reason, emotional neglect is also often at the root of rudeness and negative childhood behaviors.
Likewise, there are parents who, to save time and avoid tears or tantrums, choose the “easier way out”: give in. In these cases, children quickly understand that there are no rules because they can stretch the limits as much as they want through anger or tears. If that happens, it’s important to remember that the “quickest way out” isn’t always the best way out, especially in the long run.
Instead, children need clear rules and firm boundaries to help them find their way in the world and become secure anchors for their development. Those rules should be few and reasonable, but immovable. In fact, they serve to teach the little ones that they will not always be able to get what they want and that it is necessary to respect the rights of others. They also keep them safe, in addition to disciplining them and teaching them to deal with unpleasant feelings.
In this way, parents will educate their children’s tolerance for frustration, so that tomorrow those children will not be unruly adolescents or pampered youngsters, but rather mature, resilient, and self-confident people.
In this sense, a study carried out at the University of Rochester with children in first and second grade showed that setting limits does not undermine intrinsic motivation or affect enjoyment, even in creative tasks, as long as they are informational in nature.
That means our children need consistent habits and a firm, constructive attachment. They need a space where they feel safe to discover the world with us. Wise love recognizes the child’s successes, but also sets limits and resorts to positive discipline to correct mistakes.
This is how it is possible to educate a more self-confident person, with less frustration and greater self-esteem. A person who feels loved and respected, but who is also aware that he/she must respect the others. Love offered from the heart, wisely, and unconditionally will never spoil a child.
Koestner, R. et. Al. (1984) Setting limits on children’s behavior: The differential effects of controlling vs. informational styles on intrinsic motivation and creativity. Journal of Personality; 52(3): 233–248.