Confusion about the use of authority and parental authority

One of the central confusions surrounding the use of authority is that many parents confuse having authority with being authoritarian. They may have grown up in aggressive or violent households in which their parents meted out arbitrary control, and they may have vowed never to repeat this with their own children. As a result they find themselves confused and shocked when their children override them and do not do as they are asked. Helping parents to recognise their own duty of care with respect to their children may at times have to be put plainly with respect to the actual rights and responsibilities invested in them, and that these cannot be avoided or divested. It is not unusual to find that when parents are confused about the authority invested in them, that they are also confused about how children learn to become socialised in the first place. Socialisation does not take place automatically as part of physical development, but is dependent on the co-regulatory relationship between the child and their parents that reflects their moment to moment, hour to hour and day to day interaction. We may be critical of parents who use electronic screens of all kinds as a babysitter and soother, but we may be surprised to discover how unaware they may be of how important they actually are to their children, and how much they matter to them.

For example, parents sought help for their four-year-old son following complaints about his behaviour from the kindergarten staff. The complaints concerned his high levels of aggression and difficulty in following instruction and cooperative play. The initial discussion with the parents revealed that both had different views of the problem. Whilst the mother was anxious and concerned, the father did not acknowledge that there was a problem. This fact in itself was immediately brought to the fore as the split between the parents made any intervention with their son ineffective. Moreover, the boy not unreasonably was led to believe that his father covertly gave him permission for his behaviour. The boy himself appeared compliant and eager to please with the therapist but looked wretched and miserable when his angry outbursts were discussed. Helping the parents to present as a united front and work as a parenting team to help their son formed the core of the work.

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