Remember the last time you tried leaning back on something that wasn’t quite firmly attached to the ground? You leaned with some of your weight, but not all of it. You knew that if you leaned back too far, you’d fall. You might even have used your abdominal muscles to hold yourself up. If you compare that feeling to one of leaning back on a large, oak tree, the feeling is quite different. You know the oak isn’t going anywhere. You can relax and put all your weight on it. You won’t fall. It will hold you up.

Kids are small people in search of oak trees. What they need from us (aside from food, shelter and a never-ending supply of love) is strength. They are relatively new to this world. They don’t know how everything works just yet. They don’t have the context or references that we do to understand, plan, anticipate and enjoy life the way we are able to. So they rely on us to provide, not only actual security, but the feeling of safety, as well.

So much of parental discipline comes in the form of trial-and-error tactics. In other words, when one approach doesn’t seem to work, another is tried. Despite good intentions, this inconsistency is problematic. While kids do need us to help them understand how to behave in the world, they also need us to be unwavering in our strength (read: Consistent). In fact, I would argue that that unwavering strength is even more important than any separate attempt to teach a specific behavior. Eventually, they will learn to use their inside voices, to use their words instead of their fists, to wait until someone is finished speaking before they start, and to ask before taking something. And, while we can love the possibility that they will learn these lessons sooner rather than later, it is important for us to remember that the job of a parent is not to be a policeman, judge and jury. First and foremost, the job is to simply be the strong and loving oak tree.

© Gila Brown