“So what exactly is self-government?” a woman asked me one day.
“It is a principle of freedom that is taught by parents to their children. The parents create an environment that is filled with a loving, calm tone and a firm structure based on skills and cause and effect. This environment helps children take control of their own behaviors and have a change of heart while helping parents correct and teach children in a safe, calm and deliberate way.” I explained.
“Oh, I don’t believe in correcting children,” she said as her four-year-old son was smashing and licking books, touching things that didn’t belong to him and that could get damaged, and disorganizing everything in sight.
True to her word, she said nothing to him. She didn’t even attempt to correct her child. Even with other parents looking on with concern, the mother did nothing. She seemed to think that if a person left something in her son’s path, they were asking to have him touch it.
Parents like this are common nowadays. They seem to feel that children only need love and acceptance to become good adults one day and that correction isn’t loving, but detrimental.
Parents who subscribe to this parenting philosophy are right to put so much emphasis on the feeling of safety and love from parents. The whole idea of this kind of parenting is to create a deep attachment to the children so they will feel secure enough to not want to make mistakes. This is truly a lovely, almost dream-like, view of parenting. Who wouldn’t like their feeling of love toward their children to solve all of life’s problems? And love and acceptance are indeed a crucial part of making an environment that fosters a feeling of safety and encourages self-government.
However, without structure as well as a loving tone, the child will not fully feel safe or confident. When a child is not taught or corrected, he or she is left in a wild state. No gardener would put a seed in the ground and then never offer structure for the seed to grow and thrive. Structure for a seed offers the elements of success — ensuring proper sunshine, rich soil, weed-free root space, and scheduled watering. Without any piece of this vital structure, the plant will wither or fail to produce fruit.
A child who is not instructed or corrected is left in a very vulnerable position, much like a young, unprotected plant. The child must sort their way through life and relationships feeling controlled by emotions and battling negative, selfish habits. Even though to many people it appears to be the principle of freedom to let a child do what he or she wants to do and behave like they feel like behaving, it is really just abandonment.
The Power of Mercy and Advocacy
What caring parent would not care for a child’s wounds when they fall off of their bicycle and get scraped up by the road? All loving parents would have compassion for them when they see them in pain.
Why then do so many of these same parents choose not to care or have compassion when their child is struggling in other ways? A parent who chooses not to correct a child or teach a child proper behaviors is not advocating for their happiness or personal, moral and social freedom. When a child is angry, depressed, frustrated or selfish, a parent needs to advocate for the child by lovingly correcting them and offering treatment. Treatment for behaviors looks different than treatment for a scrape, but it’s just as soothing and important for the happiness and feeling of safety and love the child needs during that time.
When a child is out of control, the most merciful and loving thing a parent advocate can do for their child is to calmly correct them. To do otherwise is to leave the child in emotional bondage. Likewise, the same parent needs to recognize that the primary display of mercy, love and advocacy for the child happens when they teach proper behaviors. Pre-teaching proper behavior to children is one of the greatest actions of mercy and leadership a parent can perform.
Parents are leaders. It is their responsibility to point children in the right direction. If parents don’t lead their children by giving direction through teaching and correction, then the child will not learn how to lead themselves. The process of training a leader is to point the child in the right direction with calm, deliberate leadership, then for the child to practice self-leadership, or self-government, in order to keep going in the direction that has been shown. This initial self-leadership is a defining moment for a person who is preparing for life leadership.
I know there are a lot of philosophies out there about what makes a happy child. Most all of them have valuable things to contribute to the parenting conversation. Examine them closely though — any parenting idea that advocates for a parent not to correct, or lead, children is a philosophy that actually removes the parent, the child’s greatest advocate, from the process of child development. This is a type of abandonment. Our children need us to be there to lead them, guide them, and walk beside them as they find their way. Going through life without a guide isn’t freedom — it’s frustration.
Nicholeen Peck is the mother of four and previous foster parent of many difficult and troubled teens. The Peck family's success with these difficult children was based upon calmness, the principles of self- government, and good communication. She has been teaching people around the world the principles of Self-Government since 1999. She has spoken on radio stations and TV in England and China as well as to parent groups all over the world to discuss effective parenting. In 2014 Nicholeen has been invited to speak by two family organizations at the UN for the “Year of the Family.” She has also recently been nominated for “Young Mother of the Year” for Utah. In 2009, Nicholeen and her family were featured in a one hour BBC documentary about parenting called "The World's Strictest Parents." She is a popular speaker, author of the international book, Parenting a House United, and the books Londyn LaRae Says Okay, Porter Earns A Quarter, Big Win For Quin, Popular Parenting Methods, many magazine articles, and a blog called Teaching Self Government.