Monthly Archives: February 2011

Teaching Responsibility and Accountability

Parents need to start early to promote a system of responsibility and accountability for actions in their home. James Lehman calls it a “Culture of Accountability.”  Within that culture each family member is responsible for their own actions and behaviors.  They must follow the rules, meet expectations and be responsible for how they respond to frustrating or stressful situations.  Parents must be good roles models.  Talk to your kids about what it means to be responsible and accountable.  Explain what happens when they aren’t.

Start with house rules.  For example, no violent behavior like hitting and spitting, no calling your siblings names, clean up after yourself before bedtime.  Use whatever rules work for your family and your own peace of mind.

When kids break the rules, don’t allow them to blame others for what they did because no matter what happened, everyone is responsible for their own actions.   As I mentioned before, make sure the children know what the consequence is for their actions and be consistent in following through with the consequence.  I often provide children with the opportunity to determine what the consequence should be; they are usually harder on themselves than I would be.  This gives them the ability to take accountability for themselves, leaving you without having to be the heavy.

When a child breaks a rule, keep in mind that he may know what he should not do, but he may not always know what he can do.  Be sure to take time to provide alternative ways to act, otherwise, you’ll see repeated behavior and wonder why your child “doesn’t get it.”

We want to teach our children to make good choices.  The way to do that is to provide opportunities for them to make choices.  I suggest giving them three alternatives to choose from.  For example, “you can do your homework immediately upon getting home from school, you can do your homework as soon as we are finished with after dinner chores, or you can do your homework instead of watching television before you go to bed.”  They get experience of making decisions and having to live with what they decide.  You provided the choices, so they can’t make a poor choice.  It’s a win-win situation.

Children become confused when they don’t know what the expectations are, confusion leads to frustration and insecurity which results in negative acting out.  Children who are meeting our expectations, who follow the rules and receive positive feedback for that are confident and happy because they know exactly what is expected of them and where they stand with you.

Stress Free Discipline Strategies

Discipline doesn’t have to be stressful.  Discipline is meant to teach children to take responsibility, to make choices and to be accountable for those choices.  As a matter of fact, the word discipline comes from the Latin root discere, which means to learn and from the Latin word disciples, which means pupil.  So to be a disciplinarian, you need to be a teacher.

I believe that there’s never a need for physical punishment as that only teaches negative lessons such as it’s okay to hit people smaller than you and that violence solves problems.  The word punishment comes from the Latin word punier, which means to cause pain.  Hitting a child may immediately stop their behavior, but it doesn’t teach them anything worthwhile.

Through a strategy of positive discipline techniques, children will learn self-control, self-respect and to be responsible for the choices they make.  In the parenting classes I teach, we talk about discipline as being preventive and future-oriented in addition to being a response to unacceptable behavior.  As the disciplinarian you need to focus on what you want your child to do when they find themselves in a similar situation in the future.

The first step toward achieving that is by creating appropriate consequences and making sure your child knows what those consequences are.  For example, you want your child to put their toys away when they are done playing with them.  Here’s an easy strategy to make that happen by employing a few simple techniques:

•Model the behavior you want.  Have a designated place where the toys should go.  You pick up the toy and place it in that specific place.  Repeat this a few times over the next couple of days so your child can see the behavior you want from them.  Then move on to guiding and supervising your child into putting the toy away just as you did.

Each time you do this exercise explain they have to put the toy away if they want to play with it again.  The younger the child, the more patient you need to be.  After a few days, it should be enough to ask the child to put the toy away.

If the child doesn’t put the toy away as asked, then don’t allow them to play with it the next time they ask.  Explain to them that they did not put the toy away when they were asked so they can’t play with it right now.  Be sure to make the time they can’t play with the toy appropriate.  I suggest between one and two hours for very young children, two to four hours for elementary school aged children and one day or evening for older kids.  Children need to learn that they can have another chance to get it right after having made a bad choice or mistake.  When you allow them to have the toy again, remind them that they have to put it away in order to be able to play with it the next time.

•Use positive reinforcement when they put the toy away.  This requires consistency on your part, especially for younger children.  This can be anything from positive praise to rewards.  I don’t recommend rewards be used often as we don’t want children to do things only because there is a treat when they do.  That doesn’t teach them responsibility.

One good technique is to use what is important to your child as currency.  For example, a co-worker I once had told me her three year old son loved McDonald’s Happy Meals.  She saved a French fry box from the meal and used clothespins to represent the French fries.  Each time her son put his toys away, she put a “French fry” in the box.  Consequently, if he didn’t put the toys away she took a “French fry” out of the box in addition to not allowing him access to the toy the next time he wanted it.

He had to earn one French fry for each day in order to be able to have a Happy Meal on the weekend. She taught him to count the number of fries he needed to get that Happy Meal and he came to understand when he didn’t have enough fries.  She provided the opportunity for him to earn back the fry by time the weekend came around by completing some other chore.  She said that more often than not, he had enough fries to get his Happy Meal.

You can also use behavior charts with stickers to keep track.  It is helpful and makes a bigger impact if children have a visual way to track their behavior so they can start thinking about how to earn those points back to get what they want.  This helps children develop logical thinking as well as learning to make good choices.

•For older children you can also include what we call the This for That Rule.  This rule reinforces the lesson that there is an expected order of behaviors and a logical way to earn privileges.  For example, children have to finish their chores before they can play outside, or they have to finish their homework before they can watch television.  In our example of putting the toys away, they can have what they want only after they put the toy away.

Using these methods takes the stress out of discipline.  It puts the responsibility on the children and teaches them valuable lessons at the same time.  Remember, discipline is more than just reacting to children’s negative behaviors.

Avoiding Power Struggles With Your Teenagers

Simply stated, a power struggle is when two people want the same power and neither one of them has a firm grip on it.  Power struggles with teens are not uncommon as they are in that stage where they are trying to have more control over their life.  They are learning to separate themselves from others as an independent person which often causes them to test their limits.  It is your responsibility, as the adult, to diffuse the situation in a calm manner.  The KEY to avoiding power struggles is to not become engaged in one in the first place.  However, if you do find yourself in a power struggle here are some tips to successfully disengage:

•      Immediately stop arguing and try to remain emotionally cool and calm.  This will end the power struggle because without anger, your teen will have no one to fight against.

•      Let go of the idea that you can make teens do anything.  You can’t force cooperation.  Instead, inspire, teach, influence, lead, guide, motivate, stimulate and encourage positive, cooperative behavior.

•      When disengaging, you need to act, not speak.  For example, a temper tantrum becomes ineffective and silly if you withdraw to the other room without giving in to the temptation to slam any doors on your way out.  If you are outdoors, just walk away a few yards.

•      After you have both had a time out and a chance to cool off, you can talk about solving the issue that caused the power struggle in the first place.  Never underestimate the importance of saving face for kids of all ages.  Always talk to teenagers with respect and offer them choices and/or good reasons for them to cooperate.  Try to find ways for your teen to go along with what you want without leaving them feeling humiliated or too exposed.  Offer them choices – if a teenager feels personal power through choices, then they don’t feel the need for power through conflict.

•      Deflect arguments using two powerful words: “regardless” and “nevertheless.”  This approach is an easy way to assert yourself without getting into an argument.  For example, your teen wants to stay out past her 11 p.m. curfew for a Saturday night party and you don’t want her to.  After she presents her argument that all her friends will be at this party and they are all being allowed to stay late, reply with “regardless, you need to be home by 11 p.m.”  When she continues on with her argument, your next response should be, “nevertheless, you need to be home at your usual time.”  Keep doing this until her arguments run out of steam.  You will use this effectively if you don’t deviate too much from the one statement by adding unnecessary comments.   Eventually she will realize that you aren’t arguing with her and there’s nothing to be won.

•      Humor and playfulness that is not seen as mocking or shaming can be very helpful during power struggles.  If you are not comfortable using humor, do not.  Often, what is intended as humor feels like sarcasm and that only adds fuel to the conflict.

After a power struggle is not the time to use discipline.  The teen not getting what they wanted from the argument is consequence enough.  Keep in mind that teens need to learn to express themselves and they need you to listen so give them the opportunity to have their say before you say “no” in the first place.