A Strict Parent

In January 2009, the interviewer from the BBC Britain asked me if I thought I was a strict parent.  I have never liked the word strict, because I have associated it with a parent who yells a lot, is stern looking and engages in power struggles.  So, in response to the question, I said, “I wouldn’t use the word strict to describe me, but I would say I am firm.”

I shared my thoughts about the word strict with a wise friend of mine.  She looked me in the eye and said, “You are wrong about people who are strict.  A strict parent DOESN’T HAVE TO YELL.”

All of the sudden I wondered if the semantics of the word strict have been changed in recent years.

Strict isn’t what I thought it was.  I looked the word up in my Webster’s 1828 Dictionary.  It said:

“Exact, accurate, rigorously nice, governed or governing by exact rules; to observe the strictest rules of virtue and decorum.  Not  indulgent.”

I think it is pretty safe to say, I am probably one of the strictest parents I know.  I have found that low tolerances make everyone happier and more industrious.  Being strict makes me a fun person to be around.  My children love  my strictness, because then they know the exact road to success.  This gives them direction, success and confidence.

At least I now know why I don’t feel the need to yell; “a strict parent doesn’t need to yell.”  A strict parent has a system based on principles, which virtuously governs the home.  This system keeps the parent calm.  A good system of government = security for the parent.

It is also good to point out that if a parent finds himself anxious, frustrated or yelling, then he has probably forgotten to use his family government system during a specific incident.  For some reason the parent gave up their strict principles and turned to an emotional type of parenting.  A strict system keeps everyone secure, even the parent.  Parents have to govern themselves for children to learn self-government too.

See more parenting posts and answers to questions on teachingselfgovernment.com

19 thoughts on “A Strict Parent

  1. My parents definitely fit the textbook description of strict when I was growing up. Looking back on it, I can understand and appreciate the approach they took. With few exceptions, I think I will raise my children in similar fashion as they grow older.

  2. I’ve found that children simply prefer to have rules. Even though they complain about them at the time, rules given them security and a foundation for concentrating on what is important. There are so many distractions and evil things out there that rules help children keep grounded.

  3. I definitely agree that well-defined boundaries create an environment of security for both children and parents. I also think emotional parenting can be very hard on kids.

    Ironically, part of the power of strict rules and patterns is the power they have to convey relative importance when they’re broken. For example, you can teach your children to obey the Sabbath strictly week after week, and it sets a pattern. But then, the new neighbors move in, their truck arrives a day late on Sunday, and the people they’d arranged to help them on Saturday are no longer around. So, you gather the kids and start hauling boxes and furniture. Now, the importance of Sabbath observance helps establish the eminence of selfless service.

  4. My experience matches yours, Geoff. My children absolutely crave boundaries and appear to feel very secure when they know exactly where those boundaries are.

    Thanks, Nicholeen!

  5. You are right! Home structure creates succurity. Every troubled youth who has ever come to my home has acted out at first against our family government. But, as soon as they see that they are not shocking us or doing any good, they submit to the family structure and style of communication. Within a day or two of submission they are happy and enjoying the family much more. The reason they are happy is because the structure makes them feel safe, and takes away the feeling that they need to fight.

    Just like submitting to God’s will makes us all happy, submitting to the will of parents makes children happy too.

    Hannah, our British foster child, said, “When I yell at home I get my way or someone at least yells back, but here you are always so calm that it didn’t work, so I just decided to be calm to.” What a great lesson Hannah teaches parents by saying this.

    Many parents think that focusing on being friends with their children is the way to keep them close, but it backfires because the parent takes away any reason for getting respect by abandoning their office as guide for the home.

    Thanks for your additional insights! What great parents!

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  7. There are some tremendously difficult kids out there. Sounds like you all haven’t run into them. I have. I’m related to a few; I wonder how you’d react to a child that would always violate the rule and then always choose the harshest punishment for the violation; or, for a change, would just do what they wanted and submit to the punishment up to the point of actual danger to the child, at which point the parent has to back off or face child services. I think you just all got off easy.

  8. My parents were extremely strict. I grew up in the military, for goodness’ sake. I suggest your success is a combination of good parenting skills and that all-important ingredient, luck.

  9. See, the problem is that there is only so much discipline a parent can do. At some point there is nothing left to take away, and then what do you do? It may be that your kids never figure this out; random ones in my family understand this principle at birth, seemingly; and bait the adults accordingly. It makes discipline much more difficult, because if you discipline too quickly, you, at some point, have a child that has nothing left to lose. And that’s the end of the road.

  10. I think the success that my most difficult sibling has experienced (was that me?) is due to the fact that my parents gave up at some point. We all behaved, not because we were punished (just made us more interested in pushing the boundaries until they, inevitably, broke–and yes we were very young at the time) but because we didn’t want to make our mother feel bad. Love won. Internal controls are really the only ones that work, and they are developed separately from strictness, as far as I can tell.

    Many friends of mine that grew up in strict families behaved beautifully when they were being watched, but then ran wild when given the chance. Because our morals were based on love, rather than the fear of getting caught, we all grew up just fine. Thanks, brother X.

  11. Difficult brother (and I hope I don’t give away too many details here) could climb three stories up a brick wall (using the mortar cracks as hand and feet holds (it’s much more now)) pretty much from young youth, and then fall off, breaking something, without much worry on his part, except the annoyance of a cast. No fear. He still doesn’t have any.

    I guess the only point of my set of posts here is for parents to be flexible. Each child is different. What works with kid A may fail spectacularly with kid B.

  12. djinn, fwiw, I knew a lot of kids like that — completely without rules and lost. Violent, abusive, threatened to kill their parents. You are correct, there is not much you can do when they have reached the point of CD (conduct disorder). This an actual mental illness that is extremely difficult to deal with.


    Nicholeen may have some suggestions, but my experience with kids with conduct disorder is that there is really very little you can do as parents except try to keep them alive until they are 18 and then let them go and suffer the consequences of their actions. The good news is that very, very few kids actually have conduct disorder. Most of them are like the kids in the BBC show who can really make progress if shown another way of living.

  13. djinn, Thank you for your personal comment. I have heard comments like yours before. I think I can be of help. I have lived with children just like were described. I have lived with abusive, suicidal, lying kleptomaniacs with anger control issues. And guess what? The way I parent in my home changed their hearts and behaviors. Most of my previous foster children live very positive lives. I actually believe luck has little to do with good parenting. My children could be just as wild as the next child if I didn’t give them boundaries. The thing is my boundaries come with love, not fear.

    I think parents need a good plan and sound communication skills from the beginning. They also need to be consistent about lovingly correcting bad behaviors from a very young age, not just after a major problem occurs.

    People often get what I call “stage mentality.” They start thinking all behaviors, even definance, are stages. Definace is not a stage it is a disconnection from family and a love of self indulgence.

    Geoff, you are right about older teens. If a child has a history of manipulating his environment and being hateful, then by the time he gets to be about 16 or 17 years old he either needs to come to a home like mine, for hard foster youth, for a complete social disconnect, or the parents might just have to wait it out and let him face the consequences. Although both these ideas are options, (accept I don’t actively do foster care anymore)the very best option is to make an environment at home which changes hearts.

    I would like to say here that any home can live by the same principles I do. I teach families to make differences in the lives of their children all the time. Changing the culture at home can make a huge difference! Many parents take my seminars and then contact me a month or so later and say that their disconnected child is a happy member of the family again.

    Parents can change the vision and structure for the family and get amazing results. If you haven’t seen my show about transforming two very complex British teens you may want to go to http://teachingselfgovernment.com/worlds-strictest-parents-video-part-1_482/ I wish it showed more of the nitty gritty stuff, but they only had one hour. 🙂

    Things to do to help defiante teens: schedule talk times to build relationship, be real, caring, and humorous, pray together for each other, limit social involvement and excessive computer or television time. These things all feed the selfishness from within.

    I hope this was helpful. I feel your pain from having to see good parents struggle with difficult teens. I have lived with many of these kinds of teens. They do still have goodness inside and people can still touch it. It does take patience though. You can’t make a person want to change, but you can love them into that change by having the Spirit in your home and having good communication skills. That is mostly what I teach; communication skills, tone of the home, and understanding what the problems really are.

    I agree that parents need to be intuitive about what each child needs, and I also agree that the Spirit is the best teacher in the home. I also DO NOT agree with fear based parenting. I hope I made that clear enough.

    good comments!

  14. Nicholeen,
    I have seen the episode and looked at your blog. I just want to thank you for the work you have done to help foster children as well as the work you continue to do to help other parents. It is inspirational to see someone teaching parenting principles based on love, patience, committment, and self-discipline, rather than force or fear. Kudos to you!

  15. When I think of “strict” I also tend to think of yelling, harsh punishment, etc. Following that definition I had parents who were very “strict.” However, when you follow the definition of strict that you give as being exact, firm, with a strict set of guidelines, then my parents were the opposite of strict. They had no firm set of rules and when I look back and analyze the things I got into trouble the only real rule was “Don’t inconvenience or embarrass Mom and Dad.” In that home I always felt lost and afraid because I never knew what I might get into trouble for, and as long as I stayed under Mom and Dad’s radar I could pretty much do whatever I wanted without consequences (at least from the parents). At some point I decided to rebel against my parents by becoming the most ultra goody-two-shoes teenager you ever met (my reasoning being that it was up to me to make up for my parents’ shortcomings, a heavy burden to carry at 12) but if that hadn’t happened I probably would have turned out like any other “troubled teen” – on drugs, rebellious, possibly dead.

    This just shows how “strict” can be such a loaded word, as it can mean so many things to different people. For me “strict” makes me think of the yelling and belitting my parents did, and I instantly rebel against that. Yet, I think in your explanation you really hit the nail on the head. A parents creates a environment of love by not yelling or belittling, and the only way to do that (and maintain any kind order) is by being very consistent with a firm set of rules with predetermined consequences. Once the kids know the rules, and what’s going to happen if they break them, then you are freed up to be as supportive and loving as you possibly can be! But, if you don’t have any rules or standards to follow, then nobody knows what’s going on and you have no choice as a parent but to try to quash undesired behavior as it comes up (with or without harsh punishment), like some kind of endless whack-a-mole game, ultimately creating an unstable situation for everyone.

    At least that’s how I see it, but I’m still just getting started on this parenting adventure. I’m sure I still have lots to learn. 🙂

  16. Henry,

    That’s how I always thought of it too, but I have a different perspective now since my good friend shared a older meaning of the word. I hope my children see strict as loving, compasionate order based on good standards and wholesome family relationships.


    You have given great insights. You are right on with your understanding.

  17. Nicholeen:
    Some parents squeeze too much and that makes their children want to leave the nest that much quicker and some resent it so much that they never return. You have to be careful how you treat and raise your children.

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