Responsibility is the key word. Responsibility is all about making good choices for yourself. And making good choices is like anything else in life – it must be learned. When a child is allowed to make choices for him or herself, they will learn how to be responsible for themselves. When parents focus on raising responsible children, kids learn how to be self-reliant, building their self-confidence. The book Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Kline, MD and Jim Fay offer some great instruction. The following are the basics of what I learned.
In the name of love, parents will do everything possible for their children. But as Foster Kline and Jay Fay point out, love can get us into trouble; loving parents can work to the detriment of a child’s healthy development. Can you identify yourself with either of these two parenting styles? First is the helicopter parent who rescues the child at every crisis, stealing learning opportunities from them in the name of love. They never want their child to face discomfort, disappointment, or struggle. Second, you have the drill sergeant parent who is into power. They believe the more they bark out orders, the more they control, the better the child will be disciplined and act. These parents are constantly telling the child how to act and what to do. Unfortunately these children are taught to listen to voices outside of their head – which will eventually be the voices of their peers.
Whenever we give orders to children we are sending them messages that undermine their self-concept. Why? Because when you give your child orders, you are telling them they are not responsible for themselves – they have to be told what to do by a voice outside their head. In contrast, if you adopt a more consulting style of parenting, you will help the child feel in control by giving them choices. When we raise a child to be responsible, it means we are offering the child options within limits. Put the burden of decision making on their shoulders. Step back and let real world consequences do the teaching. This approach allows your child to make bad choices, fail, and learn from their mistakes; it also gives them the opportunity to choose success. The key to raising a responsible child is to give them the opportunity to be responsible. Be sympathetic and understanding to their problems (wrong choices), but give them the opportunity to solve their own problems. When you give a child the opportunity to be responsible, you build their self-confidence.
To raise responsible, confident children, the child must receive three messages.
1) I have the skills I need to make it. Parents must send encouraging messages to children that they have the skills necessary for their age to do well. Rather than passing judgment on their work, express how much fun it is to get the job done. Focus the child’s attention on the learning that is taking place rather than the outcome.
2) I am capable of taking control of my life. When you allow children to make decisions for themselves and experience the consequences of poor decisions, they feel capable of making decisions for themselves.
3) I can solve problems. Let children attempt to accomplish difficult tasks. They get the most out of the process when they are allowed to make their own decisions and mistakes.
One example of how to raise responsible, confident children
When you tell children what to do, sometimes adding anger to the message, you are telling your child they cannot think for themselves. When anger is present, they get swept up in the power of the anger rather than learning a lesson. Children who deal with their own problems and find their own solutions will feel much better about themselves, growing their self-confidence. It is always best to allow the consequences of their decisions to do the teaching. The basic rules I took away from love and logic are as follows:
1) Set firm limits using enforceable statements without anger, lecturing, or threats. An “enforceable statement” gives the child choices. The choices must be reasonable relative to the situation and you must be able and willing to enforce them. The statement is enforceable because the choices offered deal with how you will respond.
For example, let’s say a child is annoying you in your home. Do not tell the child how to act because that statement does not include a choice. Instead say to the child in a calm voice, “Your behavior is annoying to me, if you are going to remain in my space you are going to have to play quietly. If you cannot play quietly, you can choose to move to your room and play.
2) Do not repeat your request but rather take action to enforce your statement. For example, if the child in the above example does not stop the annoying behavior while remaining in your space, present him with the consequence of his actions by saying, “I’m sorry you did not choose either of my options; it was a poor decision; you now must go to your room and stay there for 30 minutes. Would you like to walk to your room right now or would you like me to carry you there?
3) Let the child take ownership of the problem and the consequences. When a child makes a poor decision it is important for the child to understand the consequences of the poor decision while at the same time showing your love and understanding for his poor choices. Always express your love and concern for him by telling him you feel sorry that he made a poor decision.
Remember children will automatically resist a command. By giving choices you force the thinking back upon the child. When you tell them what to do, they see it as a loss of control. When you attempt to usurp control away from them, the child will automatically try to regain control. So when you talk to your child do not use fighting words, instead use thinking words. When you formulate your statements, ask a thinking question and establish limits by offering choices.
To raise responsible, confident children you must give your child a sense of power and control over their life. You can best accomplish this by giving them choices, giving them the power to make decisions, and letting them learn from their mistakes and enjoy the rewards of their successes.
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