Want to Raise Responsible Children? Try giving them responsibilities

Our goal is to raise children who grow into responsible adults who once they head off into the “real” world can make good decisions on their own and accept the consequences for their actions, right?

So isn’t it counterintuitive to attempt to control the lives of our kids, particularly once they become teenagers? I’m pretty sure you know what I’m talking about.

There are the drill sergeant parents who ground their kids at the first sign of trouble, who take away cellphones, iPods and internet access. And the overprotective helicopter parents who swoop down to rescue when trouble arises. We either know parents like this or have been guilty of being one. I know I’ve been guilty of both from time to time.

Both styles of parenting deprive kids of the ability to do exactly what they need most: take increasing responsibility for their decisions as they mature and live with the consequences of those choices.

Avoid battles for control 

I’ve become a great proponent of an approach to parenting called Love & Logic developed by child psychiatrist Foster Cline and educator Jim Fay. Their approach to parenting children and teens is all about common sense. When it comes to control, their credo is: “Don’t be greedy. Never take any more control than you absolutely need to have.”

Recently, I was fortunate to interview Dr. Cline and took away some gems to help all of us to raise responsible kids. He said harsh, unilateral punishment is based on fear, not respect and does not encourage responsibility.

 “When you punish a kid, it builds resentment and really leads to more acting out,” he said. “It’s self-defeating.”

Likewise, constantly hovering over a child and not allowing him to make his own decisions deprives him of important opportunities to learn from mistakes. Cline and Fay embrace a consultant’s approach to parenting.

 It’s all about choices

 As a child grows, she should be given more and more control over her life. A few examples (I’ve geared these toward education, but the possibilities are endless. It’s all about giving choices that you and your child can live with.):

A toddler who resists helping put her books back on the shelf could be given the choice of doing it now or in five minutes.

 An elementary school-age child who doesn’t want to finish her book report could be given the choice of sprucing up the report with colored pencils or crayons.

 A middle school-age child who doesn’t want to complete homework could be given the choice of doing it right after school or after dinner.

 And once she reaches high school, this teen is so adept at making responsible choices that she can take on more and more, including course choices (AP, honors or a less rigorous class) or what colleges to apply to.

Here are Love & Logic’s Four Steps To Responsibility:

Step 1. Give your teen a responsibility.

Step 2. Have faith that he can manage the responsibility, but at the same time hope he fails because it is through failures that teens learn.

“They usually make good decisions,” Dr. Cline said. “But adolescents are going to make a lot of mistakes. The reason they make mistakes is because they lack wisdom.”

It’s through learning from mistakes that wisdom is gained.

Step 3. When mistakes are made, stand back, express empathy and sorrow and allow natural consequences to occur and lessons to be learned.

Example: Your child comes home with a D on a test. Rather than ground him, tell him you how bad you feel because you know he feels awful about doing so poorly.

“If I came home with a speeding ticket, my wife isn’t going to ground me and tell me I can’t go skiiing,” Cline said. “I’d feel bad enough about the ticket. But if my wife grounded me, then I’d be made at my wife.”

Step 4. Cline said this is the most important step: Give your teen the same responsibility again and step back.

Talk with him - not to him - about how he can prepare better for the next test. Maybe he’ll say he needs a tutor or maybe he’ll say he needs to attend the teacher’s study session before the next test.

“If kids feel in charge of the fix up, they are more likely to buy in,” Dr. Cline said.

Just a few words about consequences and control:

Dr. Cline said consequences do not have to be handed out immediately, especially if you are angry. Take your time and consult those you trust for advice. And as you talk to your child about appropriate consequences and choices, don’t agree to a choice you will later regret. And don’t threaten a consequence you know you won’t follow through on.

Want a visual aid?

If a picture might help, consider the “V of love.” Dr. Cline said pychologist Sylvia Rimm’s theory is that people, regardless of age, compare the amount of control they have in a relationship to the amount of control they used to have, not on the amount they feel they should have.

When control is gradually increased over time, people are satisfied. But when control is cut back (Rimm refers to this as the inverted V), people get angry. This would apply to parents who treat their children like adults when they are younger, letting them decide what to eat, when to sleep and even where to sleep. These children grow into tyrants. And their parents wind up having to clamp down on choices, which causes anger and rebellion.

To learn more about Dr. Cline and his partner Jim Fay, their workshops and their books, including, “Parenting with Love and Logic” and “Parenting Teens with Love and Logic,”
go to loveandlogic.com.

 You can also read an earlier interview with Dr. Cline, Helicopter parents hover too close at their own peril.


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