Monday, July 19, 2010



How does an umpire establish his authority? From the very beginning the umpire’s authority is established by his equipment: he wears a uniform that sets him apart from everyone else, he has protective gear, such as a face mask, a brush for the plate and a counter to record statistics by each inning. An umpire’s authority is further established by his demeanor on the field. He does not have to walk out onto the field barking orders. He can walk out straight and confident, and everyone picks up on the fact that this man is in charge of the game.

I have seen umpires behave beneath the dignity of their position. I’ve seen umpires lose control, erupt in anger and get in arguments with fans and yell at coaches, "Shut your mouth!" Such umpires are trying to impose an authoritarian flavor on their role, but they are not winning the respect or confidence of the players, coaches or fans.

In the same way, parents can act in anger and assert an authoritarian posture. They can threaten, holler, and, when they totally lose self-control, beat their kids (as distinguished from spanking). These parent may force certain behavior at a specific time, but they are not securing the confidence and respect of their children. A consequence of this is that they are not planting their values and ethics in the child. Only when their values and ethics become a part of the fabric of the child will those values and ethics guide the child in his or her life.

As parents, we want our children to respect us and to obey our voice. When they are young that means we want them to clean their rooms, not jump on the sofa, pet the dog gently, not throw temper tantrums, stay out of the road. When they are older, respecting our authority means they will not engage in dangerous behavior (e.g., drinking), will date someone who reflects the family’s ethics, will go to college and eventually get a job. We can’t force those behaviors over the long haul. All we can do is train and discipline consistently over time, with authority, and allow this kind of character and ethic to be planted, take root, and grow within them. It is the action of a secure parent that produces this kind of long term goal, not the anger of a parent who is insecure in his or her position, or is too permissive, and whose temper erupts when the child has disobeyed.

"Anger does not influence behavior unless it implies that something irritating is about to happen. By contrast, disciplinary action does cause behavior to change. ... How much better is it to use action to achieve the desired behavior and avoid the emotional outburst." ( The New Strong-Willed Child, pp.78&80).

It is a constant, ongoing challenge of parenting to balance love and control, to discipline with consistency, and to act out of commitment to firm action and not anger. Perhaps we can learn something from the umpire who carries himself with assurance and authority that, indeed, he is in charge of this game, and because of that, he can conduct his business with confidence and decisiveness. Sure makes the game go more smoothly when the umpire knows his position and handles it with dignity!

Warren Baldwin

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