RSS feed to your website,
here's the link!
Mac Bledsoe's Parenting With Dignity program.
What if they don't?
Reasons to Ask Kids to Limit or Adjust
By Mac Bledsoe
So often when people ask us for help with their children's
behavior they include the phrase "What if they don't…. ?" It seems
so many parents want to jump to the consequences of failure before even
considering the concept of structuring a situation of success. In a
nutshell, they seem to be more worried about reacting to what their kids
have done wrong rather than working in a preventative process of teaching,
before their children are in crisis.
In this article we will attempt to focus on giving your
children some solid reasons to adjust their behavior in a positive manner
before problems arise.
RESPECT FOR AUTHORITY - "Do it because society says
so in formal ways." Start at the earliest of ages teaching your children
that a civilized world will always have rules and laws. Teach them these
rules and laws are not an annoyance; they are an aid to us all and
especially to them. Rules and laws protect our rights, privileges,
property, and even our lives. Explain to them the chaos that would result
from a society without stop signs, property laws, and rights to privacy,
opportunity, expression, and freedom from injury. (NOTE: it is almost
impossible to teach respect for laws, and rules if your children watch you
violate those same rules and laws! You cannot speed and then demand that
your children drive the speed limit.)
APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR - "Do it because society says
so, in less formal ways." You won't be fined or sent to jail for violating
any of these rules but many times they may be just as important to obey.
These rules fall under the category of manners, or social customs, but
they often are the standards by which your children's character is judged.
Teach your children that they can act any way they choose, but other
people retain the right to their own response. And point out that these
rules make most people's responses very predictable. "You can cut your
hair in a Mohawk and dye it orange if you wish,
but remember that many people will then discount you as a meaningless
person. It may not be right for them to do so, but it is very
predictable." The same goes for conduct in a public place… loud and
boisterous behavior will, very predictably, be viewed as immature and will
be criticized by most adults. Wearing a baseball cap at a funeral will be
judged by most as being a sign of disrespect to the deceased. If you
insist upon wearing one to make yourself more comfortable, then you
predictably will be called a disrespectful person.
HELP - "I can't do this without your help!" Many
times a simple request for help will work wonders as a limit upon a
child's behavior. Think about it . . . when you ask your kid for help you
are sending very important messages. First, you are saying, "You are a
very capable person. Look, I'm giving you an important task to do!" Next,
you are saying, "You are a trusted person because this job requires that I
trust you." Then, you are saying, "I need you, and my life would be
extremely difficult without you and therefore I have come to you, of all
the people I know, to ask for help." Finally, you are saying, "A family is
a place where we all participate simply because we need each other!" Don't
be surprised if your child starts to turn to you in times of stress and
need soon after you have modeled that behavior for him or her.
PEACE - "Do this simply because it will make your
life much more peaceful and simple." Sometimes things that may seem very
basic to us must be explained in detail to our children. For example, "Did
you know that people who smile meet more happy people? So, if you would
like to spend more time around laughing and happy people, then you need to
smile, a lot!" Point out the many instances in life where cheerful people
are given preferential treatment. Make it a policy to reward cheerful
behavior in the home as early as possible. Let them experience, at the
earliest age, their cheerful attitude gets much more attention and
results. Make your home a peaceful place by practicing what you preach.
Model cheerful and polite requests for compliance rather than shouting
angry demands and watch their behavior match yours. (Children learn far
more from our actions than from our words. "Do as I say, not as I do," may
sound nice but it seldom works.)
PRACTICALITY - "This job needs doing... by you."
One of the most hirable skills in today's world is the ability to see a
job that needs doing, to be able to figure out a way to do it
efficiently... and then to DO IT. Give this
ability to your children by giving them jobs to do (simple at first) and
then getting out of their way and letting them do the whole job, start to
finish. As they complete the job let the satisfaction of completing it be
the payoff. It will not even be necessary for you to offer lavish praise.
A simple statement from you like, "Nicely done, you did that complete job
without any help. Doesn't it feel great to do things on your own? It buys
you a big bunch of respect and it buys lots of freedom to do things on
your own because others do not feel the need to check up on you."
DECISION MAKING - "You have a choice to make; what
are you going to do?" This should be started as early as possible. "Which
pair of socks do you want to wear?" Then hand them bigger and bigger
decisions like, "Here's the map. Which route do you think we should we
take?" Next time ask, "Now that you have picked the road to travel what
time should we leave?" Later seek their advice on tough personnel issues
you bring home from work. Then give them $50.00 and ask them to buy five
days worth of groceries with it. Follow with bigger and bigger jobs and
bigger and bigger decisions that go with them. Continually ask for their
opinion about issues that surround you in life. We learn to make decisions
by making them. It's the same example you heard earlier, "Put them back on
the bike!" When they make a bad decision, don't punish them. Tell them you
admire their courage for making the decision in the first place, then ask,
"What did you learn from that decision? What are you going to do next? How
do you think that will work?"
LEARNING "What can you learn from this? Life is one
big lesson." Learning can be the goal for any adjustment in a child's
behavior. When your goal is learning, the strategy often is obvious.
Remember, very little is ever learned when anger is
involved, either on your part or on the child's
part. When learning is the goal, anger should never play a role. If either
you or the child has become angry, it is probably best to wait until the
anger has passed.
"Here is how the world works, and it will help you greatly
if you understand this." Often, taking the time to teach is the longest
and most difficult way to change your child's behavior, but it winds up
being the best way because it results in lasting behavior change. While
driving in the car it is quicker and easier to simply separate quarreling
children. However, in the long run, separating them really winds up
teaching behavior the exact opposite from the logical goal. Separating
them teaches them that when people disagree, the desired response is to
separate. (No wonder we have such high divorce rates!).
It is more logical to approach two fighting kids with a goal of teaching
them some effective ways to deal with quarrels and disagreements. Teach
them by role-playing. It takes planning, thought, time, patience, and lots
of care to teach skills of compromise and negotiation but these skills
last a lifetime!
If you, as the parent, choose to make learning your goal,
it may take longer to bring about the desired behavior change at age four.
However, when you do take the time, at age four, to teach some skills,
then at age fifteen you no longer have to deal with fighting because what
you taught at age four is still working. Your child learned it! At this
point, remember you can never assume that a child has learned any skill
until they use it in the appropriate context to bring about positive
change for themselves. "Saying something" rarely defines teaching. So
often we hear parents say, "I told him a hundred times. I don't know
what's wrong, but he's not doing it!"
Telling does not constitute teaching. If teaching is the
goal, then a change in your child's behavior must be the measure of the
your success. If you use one strategy to teach a concept or behavior and
the child does not change, keep the anger out and remember three key
words: THAT DIDN'T WORK! Then, try again with another repetition or a
completely new method; but don't give up. You may not succeed on the first
few tries but one thing is guaranteed... if you stop trying to teach, you
will fail. Too many parents are willing to say, "I have tried everything,"
after a few failures instead of simply saying, "Oops, I just found another
way to teach this that didn't work, so I had better look around for
FREE parenting newsletter
Mac and Barbara Bledsoe would like to send you their
FREE parenting newsletter each month.
Every issue is packed with their special brand of wisdom and parenting
to a friend -
share the wisdom!