Parenting: the indispensable foundation of family structure.

The Effects of Hierarchy on Family Structure

by Robert Davé

As any architect will tell you, the most important element in a structure is its foundation. In this way your family is no different than your house. Think like an architect and design a foundation your family can build on. Healthy families are built on a foundation of sound parenting -- sound parenting begins with your family’s hierarchy of needs.

1. Be An Authority

Families, like democracies, need leaders -- parents who take charge and act with authority. Don't be a lazy practitioner of the "I told you so!" style of parenting -- there's a difference in being authoritarian and being authoritative. Kids don't arrive with manuals attached to them; this means you have to educate yourself. Listen, empathize, explain and nurture, but also make sure you set and enforce age-appropriate boundaries. Remember, as an effective authority you need to be a parent with administrative power, control and expertise.

2. Put On Your Oxygen Mask

Airlines instruct you to put on your oxygen mask before you tend to your children. This is because your kids need you to be OK so you can ensure that they are OK. When you run out of energy, patience and goodwill, it means you've given too much. Don't fall into the trap of well-intentioned parenting that can't be sustained. Parents -- and marriages -- have needs that must be fulfilled. Balance your care-giving with restorative self-care. When you take care of yourself, you're taking care of your family.

3. Distinguish Needs From Wants

Needs are vital to physical and psychological health. Wants are important but optional; grant them only when they don't interfere with the fulfillment of needs. This means teaching tots how to cope with "no." If you indulge your children to save them from unpleasantness, you risk turning the family structure upside-down. Make sure needs, not tantrums by a demanding toddler, are calling the shots.

4. Teach Resilience

When you teach children how to cope with "no," you give them -- and your family -- the gift of resilience. It's a lifelong skill that equips kids with tools they'll need to manage conflict, disappointment, failure and loss. When your family is resilient, it's like an inflatable castle. The structure may deflate from time to time, but will fill out fully once again when you pump in some fresh air.

About the Author

Robert Davé is a licensed clinical psychologist, consultant and educator. He has served on the faculties of two universities, published research in the "Journal of Abnormal Psychology" and run a multifaceted private practice for more than 30 years. Davé holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Michigan State University.

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