As parents we can sometimes unwittingly undermine our own authority. One of the ways we do that is by consistently parenting outside the funnel. Oh, we have boundaries and do our best to maintain them, but there are subtle ways we blur the lines and can allow our children to become wise-in-their-own-eyes and undo our own best efforts.
As a review, the funnel is a picture used to describe the age-appropriate boundaries for a child at any given age/stage of development. The narrow neck of the funnel represents the tighter boundaries necessary for young children. As children grow, mature, and gain self-control, the funnel widens because a child can accept greater responsibility and so can enjoy greater freedoms. This makes sense because we all understand that the freedoms enjoyed by a 12-year-old are, and should be, greater than those granted to a toddler. When we say a child is “outside the funnel” we mean that he has too few limits or too much freedom in a given area for his maturity. These freedoms include physical freedoms, verbal freedoms, and freedom of choice. Next to first-time obedience, understanding the funnel is of paramount importance for getting to the heart of your child.
Here are some real-life examples of how we can unintentionally allow our children outside the funnel.
- A mom has set the living room as her 2-year-old son’s boundary but within that space he has unlimited choices in activity. In the child’s mind he is master of his own world!
- A dad, in an effort to explain the reason ‘why’, frequently dialogues with his child over instructions. The child perceives his opinions are valid and worthy of consideration.
- A mom allows an excess of free play time and a minimal amount of structured play time. Again, the child is frequently choosing what to do even if the physical boundary is safe and defined.
- A dad always gives at least 2 good choices to help teach decision-making skills to his sons. He then wonders why they are always negotiating when it’s time to receive instruction even though they have been trained in first-time obedience. The children have been trained that there are always options.
- A mom, to avoid a conflict, allows a pre-schooler to think she’s choosing when mom lets her rearrange the order in which she completes the tasks in her morning routine.
In each of these cases it does not matter that the parent sees that they have ultimate control. What matters is they are allowing the children to perceive otherwise.
The key to keeping your child inside the funnel is to understand that your child’s perception is everything. If you have established boundaries for your son or daughter but you let your child think that he is choosing for himself, then your child is still outside the funnel because in his mind he is still the ruler of his own destiny. This is a subtle difference at times but becomes a watershed issue for getting to your child’s heart. He must understand that you are in charge and he must submit to the boundaries you have established. If he perceives that he is making the choice he will become wise-in-his-own eyes.
So what do you do if this is your child? Get back to basics!
- Reinforce the principles of first-time obedience!
- Be proactive in structuring your child’s time.
- Reign in verbal freedoms. Do not allow your child to negotiate. Have him ask permission and don’t allow him to just tell you his plans.
- Limit choices until your children are content to let you do the choosing.
And make sure they understand that you are in charge! Keeping them inside the funnel will achieve a new dynamic to parenting. The parent becomes the one encouraging the child toward maturity and greater responsibility instead of constantly reigning a child back in under authority.