Actress Charlize Theron recently caused a media stir when she appeared in paparazzi photographs appearing to wrestle her adopted four-year-old son Jackson to the ground after the child threw a tantrum. For this, Theron was labeled a “monster mom” and generally raked over the coals of parenting correctness by the media.
Following the release of the photograph, Dr. Gilda Carle, a therapist who bills herself as “Relationship Expert to the Stars,” opined, “it’s clear that Charlize is dictating. Instead of telling him, she should be selling him…My concern is for parents to ask the child ‘why?’ after [a tantrum] is over.”
Dr. Carle believes in what I call egalitarian parenting, also known as the same-old, same-old, dumb and dysfunctional parenting that the mental health community has been promoting since 1965.
Egalitarian parenting proposes that the parent-child relationship is a relationship between equals. As such, parents are obligated to explain themselves to their children, persuade rather than dictate, and negotiate conflict. It is because of egalitarian parenting propaganda that so many of today’s parents, when they give instructions or convey decisions to their children do a deep knee-bend and grab their thighs, thus “getting down to their child’s level.”
Dr. Carle objects to Theron taking immediate control of her child when the tantrum began. First-person accounts tell that when Jackson began his defiant fit, Theron did not soothe, console, counsel, or try to persuade with promise of reward. She simply took over. Good for her!
Contrary to Dr. Carle’s advice, parents should tell children what to do, as opposed to trying to sell them on it. Authority is not about persuasion. It’s about communicating expectations unequivocally. That describes what I call leadership speech, which is a manner of communicating that reflects confidence in the legitimacy of one’s authority. In this case, the legitimate authority is that of a responsible parent over a child. Leadership speech is calm, composed, and straight to the point. The parent uses the fewest words and offers no explanation. We don’t know what Theron said to her son, but one thing is certain, she made it clear to him that he had no choice but to do what she was telling him to do. Her actions were appropriate to the situation.
As for Dr. Carle’s suggestion that parents ask their children why they behaved the way the did, she is wrong again. That approach only serves to give validity to a tantrum. It suggests that there was a legitimate reason for the child’s explosion when in fact there is never a legitimate reason. Besides, there is only one explanation for a tantrum. The child does not obey the parent.
My hat comes off to Ms. Theron. In that moment during her son’s defiant fit, she realized she had to demonstrate that she was the decider, the authority figure, the big person, the final word on the subject — not him. She should consider becoming the “Parenting Coach to the Stars.”
Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.