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can be heard discussing Positive Psychology here.


Teaching the Law Effectively and Lovingly

September 12, 2013

In my last column I talked about the importance of love, the law, and work in ensuring our children’s success.  Because setting reasonable limits, or as some parents say, “laying down the law,” can be difficult, and because it is so important, I am going to present a few more ideas that come from the French philosopher, Luc Ferry, about what laws we make and how to intelligently apply them. 

We all know of families in which too much love destroys the minimal amount of parental authority needed for the child to behave in a civil manner.   Sometimes it seems parents love their children so much they are unable to send them to bed at a sensible time or to get them to obey without arguing.  At the same time, they want so much to be loved by their children that they don’t even assert a minimum amount of authority.  Thus they encounter difficulties parenting. 

Unless, along with love,  parents communicate the importance of the law based on their values, they may end up making their children uncivil.  This could eventually deprive them of the means to live in harmony with others and, unintentionally, even push them into a marginal existence.

Mr. Ferry, in his book “On Love – A Philosophy for the Twenty-first Century,” does not suggest that we resort to a harsh, autocratic, authoritarian style of parenting.  We don’t need to put on a display of authoritarianism when we say “no.”  Instead, he says, it is out of love that we, as modern parents, must understand that modeling and teaching correct respect for authority and the law is vital for our children – just as vital as clothing or housing.

In order to use love as the framework for the laws or limits that we set, we must first of all pay special attention to what deserves saying “no” to firmly and what justifies our unhesitatingly saying “yes.”  It’s important to consider which family and community laws we uphold and what kind of weight we give to them when they are broken.   So often, without thinking, we put arbitrary, whimsical or pointless refusals  on the same level as the failure of our children to meet the most essential demands.  For example, we might find ourselves forbidding our child of three from nibbling at a piece of paper, which has never killed anyone, in a tone of voice comparable to the one we would use to stop it from scratching his baby sister.  Or we might force our child to eat his spinach in a way that it appears as if eating spinach were as important as reading a good book, finishing homework, or understanding binomial expansions in math. 

The point is, many of us don’t arrange the things we forbid our children into any kind of hierarchy of importance.  Knowing and being able to verbalize what values we hold as important for the well-being of ourselves and our children will enable us to set and prioritize the laws that support appropriate behavior, and to uphold those laws with greater confidence.  Thus we can be confident that what we approve of and what we forbid are motivated by reasons consistent with our values and the child’s needs.

“Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t like to be done to you,” can serve as a useful guideline in deciding which laws to set down for your child.   In order to use this principle, remember: before doing anything else, set aside time to think about what you value, using the love you have for your child as the basis.   The training you give your child in following the rules of civility is an important part of his upbringing, as well as a crucial form of parental love.



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