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Is It Better to Be Feared or Loved?

by Joe Lawrence | July 13th, 2016 | Behavior, Elementary

7-8-year“What am I doing wrong?! This kid will not listen to anything I say!” I think most parents have felt this way at one point in our journey from ankle-biting toddler to seeking-self teenager. It is frustrating when our elementary-aged children will not listen to what we have to say, especially when we are trying to help them.

I grew up in a strict home, was involved in martial arts from an early age and spent the past 17 years in the military. I am well-versed on what listening is and the importance of it. Why the heck aren’t my kids getting it? What am I doing wrong? Surely I can figure out how to make a six-year old compliant.

Compliance. Machiavelli is famously misinterpreted on his statement about fear and love, and we have all heard his wisdom as, “it is better to be feared than loved.” A lot of parents take this route and demand compliance by taking away privileges, toys, etc. in order to create a mini-robot that blindly follows orders and we lean upon a similar philosophy as what was shared by Machiavelli.

The problem is two-fold. First of all, are we trying to raise brainless servants who only do what they are told? And even Machiavelli himself said it is best to be feared and loved, but that is harder to do, so it is easier to choose fear to force compliance. Sadly, this is what we do. However, think about it in the context of your own self. When a boss at work is very demanding and micromanages your every move, you are compliant when they are there. After you do what they say, you rarely go out of your way to do more and sometimes you may even rebel against the system.

In my experience, it is harder to break someone’s will to the point of blind compliance, and if you get them there, it is not as productive. It is better to focus on love. In hindsight, my father chose this approach, as did my martial arts and military leaders. They loved me by trusting me with ownership. My father gave me ownership of caring for the yard. He told me what his intent was and let me handle the rest. When I failed, he let me know. He didn’t have to tell me to do A, B, and C. He told me the yard was mine.

I chose the same approach with my daughter when she was about four. I told her what a clean room looks like (really my wife defined this for us) and that it was up to her to achieve this. I gave her ownership. This spilled over into other areas after awhile, as she felt pride in ownership. She still is not a perfect listener, but she does best when I share my intent with her and give her ownership over something.

We can try to force compliance with fear or earn love with ownership.

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