Responsible, according to the dictionary, means: answerable or accountable; having a capacity for moral decisions and therefore accountable; capable of rational thought or action.
Here’s a different take on the word. Responsibility = response + ability; the ability to respond (appropriately).
You want to raise a responsible child, so you tell her what to do in every situation. You feel you know the appropriate response, and she will be well taken care of if only she follows your instructions to the letter. But you cannot predict every situation.
I was to pick my daughter up from school after a performance that got over late in the evening. I went to the room from which I was to pick her up. She wasn’t there. I went to the office. Not there. I went to the rehearsal room. Not there. I went to the auditorium. Not there.
By now, I was getting frantic. The school had begun to empty, with most parents and children having left, and only a handful of teachers still there. I was going from room to room asking teachers if they’d seen my daughter.
The teacher who dismissed them from the rehearsal room after the performance said, “They were to get their make-up off and then go to the rooms from which you were to collect them.”
I went back to the room from which I had to collect her. “She hasn’t come in. Her stuff is not here,” the teacher told me. She gestured for me to take a look at the few bags that were still on the tables – my daughter’s bag wasn’t there.
I didn’t know what to do, and was beginning to panic. The school grounds are large, most of the lights had been extinguished, and she was nowhere to be found. A few children who’d seen me rushing hither and yon were kind enough to say, “We saw her some time ago, but we don’t know where she is now.”
I went back in a real tizzy to the room from which I was to collect her, to find her standing calmly next to the teacher. I sagged onto a chair in relief. “Where were you?”
“Mom, my friend took ill. When we went to take our make-up off, she began vomiting. I stayed with her, and then handed her over to her parents. Then I came here, and I’ve been waiting for you ever since. You’re late.” (This last in true parental-displeasure style. 🙂 ) I made my explanations, and we declared peace. I collected her (officially 🙂 ), and we did the rounds, visiting all the rooms and teachers I’d been to, to tell them that I’d found her.
For the umpteenth time, I was grateful to have a responsible child.
Unforeseen situations arise all the time. If you want your child to develop the ability to respond appropriately (responsibility), you need to follow only one rule.
Let him respond.
Don’t keep making rules for every situation: “If this happens, you should do that.” You will make hundreds, if not thousands of rules, which will only confuse your child.
Instead, give him a few general, standing instructions. You might say, “Try and get to a phone and call me or another responsible adult (your partner, parent, a family member), don’t go with strangers, don’t ride with anyone unless you have my (or your partner’s) express permission to do so, don’t take food/drink offered by people you don’t know, don’t try to help someone who seems in distress (so many of these are scams, and your child may get into trouble from trying to help)…”
You cannot dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’. Let your child respond. Let him know that you have confidence in his ability to handle a situation. Obviously, he will not do what you would have done in his place. But you have 20 or more years on him! You’d probably have done much worse than him if you were confronted with the same situation when you were his age.
If his response doesn’t yield the desired result or creates a problem, talk about it. Instead of scolding him for his ‘wrong’ (not as effective as you/he would have liked it to be, actually) response, talk about what why his response was less than ideal. Remember, he may still think his response was perfect, while you might be the one thinking it could have been improved! 🙂
If he too, feels less than satisfied with his response, discuss it. He will learn to consider more things while making a response. He will learn to come up with more possible responses. He will learn to evaluate those responses better. He will get the opportunity to practice making appropriate responses.
All of this will enormously increase his ability to respond to a situation.
And you will be raising a responsible child. 🙂
Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂
I was 8 years old when we moved to a big city. As my sister and I went down in the evening and began to make friends, we got to know a 6 year old boy. After a few days, we learnt that his parents and ours worked at the same place, but in different divisions. He must have told his parents, just as we told ours. They invited us to spend Saturday with them.
After lunch the dads sloped off to talk shop, the mums talked of getting trained household help, and we kids played some board game. After a bit, my mother complimented the lady on her son, “He seems so settled – not noisy or destructive. He’s so polite and well-behaved. Really, it is difficult to believe he’s only 6!” Since we’d already been there for about 5 hours, there was a point to what she was saying.
The lady smiled her acknowledgement. “Yes, he’s really very well-behaved. We are so proud of him. He does his chores around the house without being reminded, he’s very particular about doing his home work on time, he is polite, and always offers to help his dad or me with stuff. He’s quite extraordinary, really.”
As the afternoon wore on, the dads went to our house to open a few cans of beer (the lady didn’t like serving alcohol at home) and the mothers decided to go grocery shopping together. That left the three of us at home. And what a time we had!
No sooner had the moms left the house than the boy upset the board game, started shouting at the top of his voice, and pulled and pushed and punched me and my sister all over. He pulled our hair and kicked at us and in general, completely lost it. Initially, we were too shocked at the Mr. Hyde transformation to react, but we caught on quickly, and moved rapidly through the stages of trying to talk to him, avoiding his arms and legs, defending ourselves, using our own arms and legs, and finally, just opening the door and running out.
We didn’t go straight to our place. We walked around for a while, trying to settle ourselves emotionally and get our hair back in order and so on. Then we headed home. The boy’s dad was almost leaving, and my dad was fiddling with the TV to put on the news. “You played together?” my father asked. We nodded, and went to our room.
When Mom eventually got in, she couldn’t stop singing the boy’s praises. “…even our girls are not as well-behaved as he is…” My sister and I rolled our eyes mentally, and told my mother at bedtime how he had actually behaved when there were no adults around.
My parents never doubted our word, but as both my sister and I were beginning to develop bruises on our arms and legs from being his punching bags, there was not even a smidgen of disbelief my mother could indulge in. “This is awful! I will speak with his mother tomorrow – she must know how badly he behaved…”
We agreed, full of righteousness at being wronged (how human beings love to be ‘right’! 🙂 ). When my mom called the lady the next day, she encountered total disbelief. “No, no – there must be some misunderstanding. You saw how well he behaves, you complimented him yourself, the girls must have misconstrued something he said (! and got bruises from it?!)…”
Seeing that there was no way the lady would believe what she was hearing, my mother wisely stopped. That was the end of that playmate!
Over the years, I have seen innumerable children who are ‘ruled with an iron hand’ by their parents. These parents have rules – strict rules, lots of them, for every situation and person, for every time of the day – they have long lists of do-s and don’t-s that cover every imaginable circumstance. And if ever a new circumstance comes along, one or more items are added to the DO-s and DON’T-s lists.
They want their children to be perfect – all day, every day.
Children love attention and approval – two things that most people confuse with love – so they obey as many rules as possible to the best of their ability. And their ability to obey is formidable. It looks like everyone is happy – the parents because their rules are being obeyed, and the children because they actively solicit and bask in their parents’ approval (‘love’!) by obeying the rules.
At some point, however, nature begins to assert herself. The child has a mind of his own. He finds his parents themselves don’t abide by their own rules. He finds that they enforce their rules arbitrarily. He begins to question his parents’ rules – all of them.
The child looks around at other children who are not so obedient, not so ‘good’, not so ‘loved’ – and finds that these other kids aren’t doing too badly! Quite the contrary, in fact: they are enjoying themselves, doing whatever they feel like whenever they feel like it, living life ‘their’ way, and if they aren’t getting any approval or ‘love’ from their parents, they don’t seem too bothered by it!
And he? He is stuck spending every moment of his life trying to please his parents.
Do you wonder that when this child breaks free of his parents’ rules, the break is spectacular, violent, over-the-top, subversive, dangerous? It has to be! He has spent so many years toeing the line; he has to make up for all those hundreds of thousands of moments of not asserting himself – his will, and he has to make up for it all at once.
The child goes ballistic – loses control altogether.
A girl I’ve known for 4 years was teased mercilessly by her classmates for being Miss-Goody-Two-Shoes. But behind the teasing, she was well-liked: she was fun to be around, even though she lived in deadly fear of offending authority in the slightest way (authority represented by her parents and teachers.) Her acquiescence of authority was so extreme that if an adult (I, for instance) had told her in all seriousness that I was sure the sun rose in the west, it would not cross her mind to smile at my words or smirk or utter a single word of disagreement. She would just look down, avoiding my eye. If I were to insist on her agreeing with me, she would even manage to nod (and this is a smart, knowledgeable, ‘truthful’ child!).
I know the child’s mother slightly, and I always wondered why she pushed her lovely daughter so hard. As my daughter would tell me things that she and her friends sometimes talked about, she always wondered why the girl’s mother was such a harsh parent.
“Why? It’s not fair! She (the friend) has no freedom to do anything her way!” my daughter would agonize.
“Who knows? But it’s not good. And it’s not natural the way the girl behaves. Some day all this repression will burst out of her – and that will be a very terrible day for the family. They probably won’t realize it – she’ll manage to disguise it from them, but you will know, because she is unguarded around her friends. She will need some really mature person to be there for her when that time comes,” was my response.
Today, sadly, that time has come. At an age when all children are willing to indulge in experimental speech and behavior of all kinds, she has become so out-of-control that she is shunned by her peers. She has no one to hang out with, and any group she joins mysteriously melts away. She is finding it difficult to work on group projects because the other children hasten to create their own groups to avoid having to include her.
I’m sure she feels the pain of being shunned, but the resentment and pain, the force of all the discipline she was needlessly subjected to is too strong for her to resist. And so her tongue and mind and heart have run away with her, till she’s running downhill at a catastrophic speed – running not because she wants to run, but because the slope is too much for her to resist any longer.
Let him please himself. Let him let off steam. Let him vent. Let him be. Let him talk about girls, and boys, if he so wishes it! Let him share his thoughts freely with you. The more NO-s he hears from you, the less you will know him.
Don’t be under the mistaken notion that what you see and hear is the reality. What you see and hear is what your child thinks you want to see and hear; it is your illusion – that you mistake for reality.
Relax, and let your child breathe, and be herself. If she can’t be herself even with you, her parent, whom will she go to? She will go to someone someday, but will that person be as safe as you? It is heartbreaking to say it, but your child may actually feel safer being himself with somebody (anybody? everybody?) other than you. And you have only yourself to thank (blame?) for this state of affairs.
Think about this before you push him to the wall with your demands, your rules, your discipline.
Personally, I’d rather have my child behave abysmally at home and reasonably well outside than the other way around (if there has to be a choice of where your child will lose control of herself). Let YOU be the person she tries out her craziness on. Let her get it out of her system, her head. She will feel safe. She will be protected. She will know she is loved – not ‘loved’, but loved.
And you do love your child, don’t you?
Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂
The complete title of this post is: Why Your Child Listens to You Sometimes and How to Ensure This Happens More Often. 🙂
I must clarify that the word ‘listen’ in the title has been used according to your definition of the word, not mine. When I say ‘listen’, I mean pay heed to an idea or thought, consider it. The listener is then free to embrace the idea partially or wholly, or to reject it.
When you use the word ‘listen’, you mean ‘do as I say’ or ‘obey’. So this post is about why your children do as you ask them to do sometimes, and how to make sure they obey you more often.
I believe there are 2 laws at work which make a child obey its parent(s). One is the law of expectation, which I have talked about earlier. If you truly expect a child to do as you have said, you will usually find very little (if any) opposition to your will.
The other law, which unfortunately comes into play a lot more often, is the law of desperation. Most of the time, you are desperate that your child obey you. And how can you not be desperate?
My daughter rarely remembers to apply lip balm. When she was little, years ago, I would do it for her. When I got her her own lip balm (at 6 or 7), I said if she was old enough to choose the flavor and brand of her lip balm, she was old enough to apply it, so all I would do was remind her to do so. Like so many other things, the novelty of having her own lip balm ensured that for the first few days, it was applied many times a day. Then, it became just another chore. One had to wash one’s hands (she had the balm in a little pot)…, and there were so many other, more interesting things to do – so the lip balm application fell by the wayside.
Her lips dried up, started peeling, started cracking so badly that she had blood oozing from them. Sometimes, dried blood was caked on them, and smiling, eating, drinking, talking became painful. “It hurts!” I was told, as if I personally had taken a hatchet to her!
“Well, you don’t remember to put on the lip balm,” I pointed out.
“It’s too much work! It’s cold and I have to keep washing my hands to put it on. There has to be a simpler way.”
“Okay. Shall we get one of those lip balm applicators that works like a lipstick? You just roll it up, apply it, roll it back down, and you’re done.”
I heard an enthusiastic yes. We went shopping and bought something. History repeated itself. For the first few days, all was well. Then some days it got left behind at home when she went to school, and she wasn’t able to reapply it in school and her lips bled and the blood caked up and…
We bought another stick of lip balm. One to keep in the school bag; one at home, so she would always have access to something.
One got lost. We bought another. She changed her mind about the flavor – she didn’t like it any more. We bought another.
Years down the line, I still come across one or two of those ancient lip balms on sticks and toss them into the bin. But the point is: she just did not apply it.
Let me tell you, it hurt to see her with lips either bleeding or caked with blood over 50% of the time. I once told her even the beggars on the streets didn’t have such dry lips. “Mom, give me a break, okay? Don’t get after me all the time. I know what to do, and I’ll do it if I want to” was the response I got, along with all kinds of dire looks. (Sigh! :-))
On various occasions, members of my family took me aside saying I should do something about it, because besides looking terrible, she was in real pain – unable to smile or talk, eat or drink. I told them I reminded her every now and then, and they were welcome to join me in doing so (which they wisely refrained from! 🙂 ), but beyond a point, she had to look after herself.
Once it got so bad that I actually applied some Vaseline to her lips after she had fallen asleep. This happened for two consecutive nights. Then I thought, “What the heck! Into every life some rain must fall. If this is the trouble she chooses for herself, so be it.”
And that’s where we are today.
I once asked her how come she ‘forgot’ to apply the balm despite the pain. “There are so many other things…,” she said. I smiled my understanding. How could I not? There are a million billion things that are so little, so simple, that I can do for myself, which will make my life easier, simpler. More importantly, these are things I actively want to do for myself. But I don’t do them – because there are so many other things… 🙂
So when I say the law of desperation, I know what I’m talking about.
You know what I’m talking about too! Your child is low on iron, but won’t eat any proteins or green leafy vegetables, and won’t pop that iron pill either. He is sleepy but won’t stop playing that computer game so he can get enough zzzs. He can cure his 19/20 eyesight by doing eye exercises, but won’t. (And he says he doesn’t want to wear spectacles!) All he needs is 15 minutes of Math practice a day, and he’ll be a whiz – but he doesn’t find the time…
As a parent, there are innumerable times you are desperate – often for a very good cause. But the point is, the more desperate you are, the lower the chances that your child will ‘listen’ to you.
When you care about an outcome beyond a point, you build failure into it. Read that once more. When you care about an outcome beyond a point, you build failure into it.
Think about all the times you ‘won’ at something, all the times you succeeded. You were ‘cool’ about it, not desperate. And now think of all the times you were ‘desperate’ to have things your way (people, situations, results) – rarely did the chips fall in your favor.
I don’t know why this is so, but I have found it to be always true.
The funny thing is, the few times I have succeeded despite the desperation, I have found that once I’d got the outcome, I didn’t want it! I’m sure you can relate to this one too. 🙂
If you can drop the desperation, and have the expectation, there’s a good chance that your children will ‘obey’ you more often than they do right now.
And for the occasions they don’t, remember: into every life, some rain must fall.
When I was a child, an aunt told me, “It is up to you to get your father to stop smoking.”
I was fired with enthusiasm, and confronted him right away. “You’ve got to stop smoking! You know what it does to your lungs, your health, your life. Just stop, okay?”
My father, a very wise man, replied, “You know we all have to die one day, in some way or other. Maybe I’ve decided to choose this way.”
Nothing more to be said, is there?
P.S. I am anti-smoking personally, but it is every person’s right to choose for themselves at every point in their lives.
Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂
Alright, let’s be the loving, logical, practical adults we want everyone to believe we are.
You want the best for your child, and you want your child to be the best – in at least one area of achievement. You’d like to help her take the correct path and avoid obstacles. This means a formidable list of Do-s and Don’t-s (creative grammar, I know 🙂 ).
What if you got just one option – your child can go with either the Do-s or the Don’t-s? Hmmm.
Lots of parents would choose the Don’t-s. For instance, if you’re talking about food and nutrition, it is probably easier (and definitely more valuable!) to say “Don’t do drugs, don’t smoke, don’t have more than 2 pegs of alcohol a day (if this is what you want to say)” than it is to say “Be sure to eat 5 servings of fruit and vegetables (these should include all color families…, eat both raw and cooked vegetables except for … which should not be cooked and … which should not be eaten raw, remember tomato is technically a fruit, avocados can’t be included in greens, and…), 3 servings of dairy,…”.
You know your child won’t remember a tenth of what you’re going to tell him. Might as well make it short, so you decide to stick with the Don’t-s.
Great! Why don’t you begin making a list right now?
If you’re anything like me, you’d probably have 50 things on your list in less than 10 minutes.
My daughter would faint if she read the above sentence. She’d faint, because she and all her friends believe I am one of the most easy-going parents around. I agree with her (and them). 🙂 I can make the list, but I’m also very good at editing this list down to one or two things.
These one or two things are my NO-s. I have them down pat, and every time I’m tempted to say NO (or “Don’t!”), I go back to my list and cross-check:
– Has been eating sugar through the meal, and is looking to overdose on chocolate for dessert. Asking for permission. Say NO? (Does it go against my NO?) No. “Sure – go ahead!”
“Oh, Mom, you’re the best!” (I’m rolling my eyes.)
– Has gone ballistic over some ridiculous detail. Screaming so loudly I can’t hear myself think. Follows me so she can vent fully (and I can’t get away!). Give her a piece of my mind? No point – she ain’t listening anyway. So I duck till the storm has passed. In a bit, she’ll calm down, come over and apologize. And I’ll tell her she doesn’t need to be sorry.
I really think she doesn’t need to apologize, and here’s why I think it:
1. I’m her mom – if she can’t acknowledge and give in to how she’s feeling even when she’s with me, what’s the point of being family? If I don’t give her the space and time to vent, where will she get it? This time and space is what makes a bunch of people in a house a family.
2. Venting is good for health – she’s letting it all out safely and she will feel better after having done so. Suppressing how you really feel creates all kinds of physical and mental problems – simply not worth it. And if I’m listening, I’ll get a chance to understand what she’s thinking and feeling.
3. She learns – each time she blows something out of proportion, I am matter-of-fact about it. I don’t ask her to stop throwing a tantrum, I don’t yell back at her… As a result, when she cools down, she herself thinks about what happened and why it happened. We might talk about it or not. And the next time around, she has more perspective. The result is delightful and twofold: if she freaks about the same thing, the intensity is lower than it was earlier; and she freaks about bigger, more important things. Either way, she’s growing, and growing well. Oh, joy! 🙂
4. Love in action – It’s easy to be loving and accepting when things are going well. If you can be loving and accepting even when your instinct is to run screaming from him, he’s experiencing love in action. He will notice this. And it will give him the confidence to be who he is – assured that he is no less worthy of love because he is not all ‘good’. He will be less vulnerable to manipulation by people and circumstances. That’s what I want for my child. I’m sure that is precisely what you want for your child.
5. Someday, somewhere, it will out – If your child doesn’t vent at home, he will vent somewhere with someone. Who knows what might come of this?
6. Risk avoidance – I have seen so many children – and adults – leading heavily controlled lives: always making the right noises, having the right reaction in the right proportion, doing what is expected of them. Till one day, the smallest trigger completely derails them, and then it takes a good long while for them to get back on track – if at all they do. Better by far to let off steam as one goes along, and chug along the track of your own choice.
So she doesn’t need to apologize for losing her temper. For the longest time, she didn’t believe me when I said it. But over the years, as we’ve lived the reality of it, she’s beginning to get it.
I gain in innumerable ways from having very little on my NO list:
I. The list is easy to remember – and abide by! 🙂
II. She shares freely with me – her thoughts, ideas and what goes on in her life, because she doesn’t need to worry about which NOs she has transgressed. Our communication is based in reality.
III. When I say NO, she listens – no, not obeys, but it’s enough that she listens! 🙂 (She must make her own mistakes and learn from them – one of the hardest lessons for a parent.)
IV. We share a great relationship – both of us actively choosing to spend time with each other. And we enjoy ourselves!
V. I can go up in smoke too! 🙂 And I do.
Well, what are you waiting for? Make your list of NO-s, edit it, communicate it, and then sit back and be a carefree parent…
I was in high school, having a conversation with my English teacher on parents hitting their children. She had two kids, the younger of whom was 2 years old.
“I would never, ever hit my kids,” I said, sure of my stand. (I was a teenager, so it’s obvious I knew it all! 🙂 )
“Vinita, when your child is putting her finger in a live electrical socket, and doesn’t heed your warnings to be cautious, the only way to get through to her is to smack her hard. Do it a few times, and she’ll learn.”
I still disagreed.
“Well, how would you go about ensuring she doesn’t get an electric shock?” my teacher asked.
“I don’t know exactly how, but I will never, ever raise my hand to my child,” I reiterated.
She wasn’t convinced that I’d be able to get through to my child, and I was adamant that I’d find a way that didn’t involve hitting.
About a dozen years later, I’d just put a mug of piping hot tea on the living room table for my husband, who hadn’t yet entered the room. My 8-month old was trying to pull herself off the floor into a standing position using the table as support. Yes, the same table that held the piping hot mug of tea. She stood up, and reached a hand out towards the mug from which the steam curled enticingly upwards.
I don’t think any parent I know would do what I did next. I held her hand, and dipped the tip of one of her fingers into the hot liquid – just for a split second. As I did it, I said, “Hot! NO!”
Her hand was out of the tea and she was in my arms as I rushed her towards a cold water faucet before she even realized the pain fully. She looked into my eyes, hers wide with unshed tears. “That was HOT tea,” I repeated. “We don’t touch hot things. NO!”
I think she was fine after I’d put enough cold water on her finger. At any rate, I don’t remember any ill-effects after the event.
But there were numerous ‘good’ effects. Madam (thus respectfully do I allude to my almost-teenager who checks out my posts and is overwhelmingly generous with her comments 😉 ; which are mostly some variation of “Mom, you’re crazy!” 🙂 I told you – she knows everything! 🙂 ) never tried to fling herself off staircases, windows and balconies, or insert various parts of herself into electrical sockets or gadgets (microwave, toaster, vacuum cleaner etc.).
I didn’t child-proof my house. I had delicate crystal all over the place, and it stayed there. She learnt that there were places to play and places not to play. Some people feel that this might be because she is a girl (“Girls listen, but boys are so naughty! They simply run wild, you know!…”), but I’ve discovered that’s not true.
I have friends, men, who were as athletic and devil-may-care in their childhood as any boy could be, whose parents even today proudly display delicate china and crystal they have collected over decades – just as they did when the kids were little. All because they managed to teach their children the meaning of NO. 🙂
I thought of my conversation with the English teacher years after the hot tea incident. I’m not so sure any longer whether I proved my point or not. I certainly did not hit my daughter, but dunking her finger in hot tea is also violence of a kind, so I don’t know what to think.
But I am sure about 2 things: I feel bad that she had to suffer that momentary pain, and I am convinced I did the right thing. You may wonder at my ability to reconcile these apparently conflicting ideas, but it makes perfect sense to me. I saved myself – and her – a lot of trouble, heartache and conflict by getting her to understand NO so simply and directly.
I have no guilt about it; quite the contrary – I’m rather pleased I solved a potential problem before it even arose! I am not rationalizing the incident saying, “I did it for her – so that she wouldn’t hurt or injure herself in the future…” That was a side-benefit.
I did it for me. I did it because there was no way I could parent one kid and one puppy, cook, clean, run a household for us, and stay married to a husband with health issues and insane hours at work. But even if I’d been having a cushy life with ‘nothing’ to do, I’d still have chosen to do what I did. It was short, simple, direct, and effective.
If you’re still reading this, you might be appalled, and trying to come up with your own way of teaching your child the meaning of NO. That’s great! 🙂 The only way that will work with your child is the way that comes naturally to you – the way that you feel is right for you.
The ‘hot tea’ kind of one-time teaching obviously works when your child is really young, too young even to remember such an incident.
But what if your child is past that age? How can you teach him the meaning of NO?
The best time to start is now.
The best way to start is to pick only one NO. Suppose you want to cure your child of 15 ‘bad’ habits he has. Add to these 6 ways to ‘improve’ him or the way he does things. (Look at yourself! And you expect your child to listen to you! Get real 🙂 ) Of these 21 possible projects, pick only 1. That is your NO.
Maybe you pick ‘NO TV at dinnertime’. It has to be iron-clad; it has to be repeated and reinforced endlessly; you have to live it; you have to be the role model – no exceptions. Oscar Awards live on TV? Move dinner time so you’re done before the telecast begins. Wimbledon finals? Move dinner time. Not possible? Switch off the TV when a commercial break starts, serve and eat dinner, and begin watching after dinner is done.
They’re showing a documentary you’ve been trying to get hold of for years? Record it; or do dinner at a different time. No exceptions. Not if someone is ill. Not if there are guests over. (What kind of host are you anyway to have people over for dinner and then plonk them in front of the TV while you all eat? 🙂 )
After all, you’re teaching your child the meaning of the word NO. You’d better demonstrate that you know the meaning yourself!
An open secret about the word NO: the more sparingly you use it, the more effective it is. More tomorrow…
Many children in the world are brought up without praise. This is sad, to say the least, and has terrible consequences for their self-esteem, behavior, and the quality of their lives as children. And as adults. Obviously, it also affects how they will raise their children.
But you are probably not such a parent. You know that praising your child is a very important part of showing how much you love her. You have read all the literature about propping up her self-esteem, about affirming good behavior with praise and discouraging bad behavior by ignoring it. Carrot, carrot, carrot. No stick. And it works.
When she’s little and tries to stand on her own, she falls with a thump. You encourage her to try again. She tries again. You praise her. Carrot. She falls back down. She tries yet again to stand up. You praise her. Carrot. She falls back down. She tries once more. Carrot. There’s no need for the stick! Everything’s perfect.
This is what happens all the time – when she says her first syllable, first word, learns to stand without support, then walk, then run. More milestones are celebrated with praise. First sentence, first scribble, saying “Please” and “Thank you”, asking for permission, listening to what Mom and Dad say (let’s be honest – this one’s called obedience 🙂), putting her toys away, feeding herself, feeding herself without making a mess, finishing all the food on her plate, dressing herself, wearing her own sandals and shoes, identifying numbers and alphabets, learning to read and then write…
Of course, potentially dangerous behaviors need to be actively discouraged, and you do so. This is the ‘Beware! List’. She has to be taught initially to stay away from – and then to be careful around – electrical sockets, hot dishes and liquids, sharp edges, glass, and so on. Whether you explain, scold, warn, demonstrate, play-act or spank, you find ways to teach her that she has to watch herself around all this and more.
Every time she successfully negotiates the ‘Beware! List’ you praise her. Of course! That’s what any loving parent would do.
So far, everything is going swimmingly.
As your child engages more with the outside world, you begin to caution him. As he grows, there are ever greater threats to his safety and security. You want to protect him from hurt – both physical and mental.
You teach him how to cross a road – not that you ever let him cross it alone at this stage, but for years you keep teaching him. “Don’t accept things from people you don’t know.” “Don’t go anywhere with a stranger.” And each time he behaves appropriately, you praise him. Carrot.
He does ‘good’ things, and you reinforce his behavior by praising him. Carrot. He avoids things from the Beware! List and you reinforce yet again with praise. Carrot.
The point is this: Too many ‘carrots’ will lead to trouble.
This doesn’t mean that you must use the ‘stick’. That is a decision that you alone can (and should) make for yourself. If your parenting style doesn’t involve the ‘stick’, know that when you withhold the carrot, you’re wielding the ‘stick’.
If your child gets praised for everything he does (and doesn’t do), he becomes a praise ‘junkie’. This phase will occur at some time or other in each child’s life, but it is important that he move beyond it relatively quickly.
It is totally understandable to heap appreciation on a 5-year old who brushes his teeth well. But if he’s expecting to be praised for the same skill at age 10, you have a problem on your hands.
Essentially, you need to wean him off the old carrots, and get him on to ‘bigger’ carrots. Like doing chores around the house, learning new skills – whatever is appropriate to his age and ability, learning new attitudes…more grown-up stuff.
What happens if you don’t?
Firstly, nobody – not even you – will be able to praise him for a particular achievement for the rest of his life. “Lovely! You tied your shoelaces so well!” sounds wonderful and genuine when your child is 7. It sounds ridiculous if he’s 12, and you probably wouldn’t dream of even mentioning it by the time he’s 15.
Secondly, after a point, the praise sounds false, even to the child, as in the ‘shoelace’ instance above. And he will wonder why you feel the need to praise him for an ordinary, everyday occurrence.
Thirdly, his thinking and behavior will be distorted by his addiction to praise. People will figure out his sensitivity to praise, and manipulate him till he’s miserable. And he won’t know why. “You share your allowance with me every week. You’re such a good friend!”
Fourthly, you may continue to find opportunities to praise him as he grows, but will anybody else? Out there in the world, who really cares? We all know the answer to that question: No one. Basically, when it comes right down to the wire, practically no one cares.
But as he begins to form relationships outside the family, and as these ties strengthen with time, he will be increasingly bewildered by these friends who are not appreciative enough of him. One of two things might then happen. Either he will redouble his efforts to win their praise, which might move him farther away from what he wants. Or he will wonder what is wrong with him. Or both things might happen.
Self-doubt, low self-esteem, discontentment, misery. Stick, stick, stick, stick. And not one of these sticks is actively wielded by anyone! Not one of them is ‘meant’! It is your child alone, who is beating himself up with these sticks.
Fifthly (is this ever going to end?!), even if he is lucky enough to find good friends, human beings are fickle. The thing that delights a person today may irritate him tomorrow, leave him unmoved the third day, and arouse his contempt on the fourth. But your child will want praise all the time! Which is simply not possible.
Your child will live without ever basking in the glow of achievement for its own sake. He will feel all his achievements diminished if they are not praised by someone (or everyone!). What a needless tragedy!
Here’s an item to add to your Beware! List: Do not kill with praise. You’ve added it? Carrot. 🙂
It is 8pm and you’re entering the house after a hard day at work. Your 11-year old daughter just remembered she needs a special tool from the store for a project tomorrow, and she will be penalized if she doesn’t have it. The store is a 15-minute drive away, and if you turn right around and leave, you might be able to buy what she needs before the store shuts. “But why didn’t you tell me or Mom earlier?” you ask in desperation. “You’ve done this so many times! You get back from school at 3pm. You’ve had 5 hours to let us know, and you tell us now!”
“Please, Dad,” she pleads. “Just this once. Please. I won’t make a good grade unless you buy me the tool. Please. I promise. This is the last time.”
You’ve always bailed her out, so be fair to her and do it one last time.
However, make it clear to her that this is the very last time you will do so. When you get back, and are surrounded by profuse expressions of her love, sit her down and tell her that from this moment onwards, she has to be responsible for certain things in her life. Tell her in so many words, and start small. Start with whatever is bothering you the most.
“The next time you don’t tell us by 4pm, we will not get it for you.”
“If you wake up late and miss the school bus, I won’t drop you to school. You’ll have to miss school.”
“If you don’t put your clothes in the laundry basket, they won’t be washed. You can wear dirty clothes or stay in bed.”
“If you don’t tell me about your orchestra practice (or ball game or debating competition…) at least three days before the event, I will not take you.”
The next time they slip up, it is time to show that you love them enough to let them face the problem they have created. She needs to learn that there are consequences to not doing things on time. And she needs to learn it more than she needs to make a good grade on tomorrow’s project.
Just say no.
Your child will rave and rant. He will throw at you every accusation he can muster. Stand firm. He will take your breath away with the unfair and hurtful things he says (the first of which is that you do not love him and do not care about him!).
Do not give way. He will ask you why you are being so insensitive, hard-hearted, selfish… Don’t even bother to answer his questions, because he is not ready to listen to your reply. He may end up not eating dinner, banging doors, talking back, screaming…
Let him be.
She might even play the last trick up her sleeve. “Alright, if you don’t care enough about me and my grades to get me what I need, I won’t go to school tomorrow.”
Stay your ground. If need be, tell her that if she’s sure she won’t go to school the next day, she can stay home and you’ll arrange for supervision (if this applies to you). Let her know it is her decision, and that you respect it.
If not that evening, she will definitely have calmed down sufficiently by the following evening for you to sit her down and explain why you acted as you did. Tell her that reaping the results of your actions is part of growing up. Tell her that real life rarely gives you the same opportunity twice. There will be other chances, other opportunities, but the one that is gone is gone forever.
If you missed the flight that began your dream 30-day vacation, the holiday is not spoiled. Delayed and more expensive than you’d planned – definitely. But not spoiled. However, that doesn’t change the fact that you missed the flight.
She will get it if you sit down and tell her.
But this is where things often go wrong.
Instead of simply talking to our children and telling them our point of view, we get defensive. We tell them, and want them to still think well of us. We want them to agree that our action was correct, that it was justified. And so, instead of just telling them, we start pleading with them for their understanding. And when they withhold this understanding, we feel our firm decision begin to waver. Maybe one more time…
Beware! This is the time to stand firm. Hold on to the love you have for your child. Hold fast to your decision to be a good parent, to help your child become a worthwhile adult.
Your son will understand, but not while you are explaining. The understanding may come a week, a month, a year from the moment that you explain. Your child has become so used to being coddled by you that this sudden removal of the buffer feels like he’s been thrown into the sea when he can’t swim. What’s worse, you’re not even handing him a life-belt!
Such behavior perplexes the child, frightens him. It shakes the solid foundations of his world, because he has never before known what it was like to not have things set right for him. The rages, the harsh words are just his way of venting, of telling you he’s feeling abandoned.
But best they go through this feeling early, while you are still around to hold their hands and help them make sense of things. Tell your daughter this. When you tell her, she may see the point, or she may not. What is important is that you are not apologetic or defensive about your actions. And you are consistent about letting her bear the results of her action or inaction.
After he’s half-drowned, half-paddled his way out, help pump the sea water out of his stomach. Give him a hot bath and a back rub. Tuck him up in bed with a cup of hot soup and sit with him as you both relive his ‘drowning’ experience. He will know that you still love him, that you still care.
And then, follow through on what you have said. After all, you want to be a person of your word.
Sure there will be scenes. So what? There are scenes anyway. At least these will be scenes you are directing! And before you know it, you’ll have a runaway success on your hands.