Promoting Responsibility in Parenting by Ruth Bedsole, LMFT
The old saying goes, “actions speak louder than words”. This could not be more true than in one’s role as a parent. Contrary to what your children may tell you with their words or actions, they hold you, the parent, in great esteem. You, and most especially your actions and behaviors, serve as strong models for your children in their development of their values, morals and behavioral standards. Here are a few areas where your behavior can be a great influence.
Communicate: Talk and Listen By listening to your children when they talk, you will have a better chance of getting them to listen to you when needed. Mutual and reciprocal communication provides a strong foundation for the parent-child relationship. Active Listening is an empathic listening skill recommended not only for parents and families, but also in the corporate world as well. You can learn more about active listening in the text “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Faber and Mazlish.
Set Basic and Reasonable Rules A few basic rules that can be followed, and followed through, by you the parent, is often best. Too many rules often results in confusion for the children, and minimal enforcement by the parents. It is best not to threaten any kind of consequence if you are not willing or able to follow through. It is also important to communicate the rules up front, so the children know what to expect and do not feel the parent is making the rules as they go along, according to whim.
Allow Children to Contribute A wonderful message to children is that they are both needed and capable. At an early age each child can have some sort of chore or responsibility to the family. Assigning simple chores at an early age sets the stage for greater responsibilities as children grow. Making such chores a routine expectation promotes family unity and a sense that everyone in the family is needed and important. While some families choose to pay children for chores, others do not, with the idea that this is an expectation as a part of the family. Some experts feel that if children are paid for such efforts, they may expect to be paid for everything. The concept of contributing to the family is a good opportunity for children to see that there are not tangible rewards for all efforts. Praise and appreciation for effort, however, is definitely appropriate!
Promote Honesty and Realism Neither excessive criticism nor excessive praise is helpful for children. Children know they are not perfect, so don’t send the message that they are. Setting the bar too high can create the potential for anxiety, a sense of entitlement, or other internal conflict for the child. Give the child appropriate feedback, and specific and genuine praise.
Acknowledge Mistakes Mistakes are opportunities to learn, according to Jane Nelsen, author of Positive Discipline. Within parameters that are reasonable and acceptable, allow your child to make decisions appropriate to his or her age and developmental level. Making decisions helps the child learn about consequences and promotes a sense of competence and self esteem as well. It is also helpful for parents to acknowledge their own mistakes to the child. Children will be much more likely to acknowledge their own mistakes or poor decisions when they see parents make mistakes and understand it is “human” to make mistakes.