Making resolutions can be productive or can elicit a big long yawn. So what’s new? Yet if you want to make changes in your life with regard to your child or children, there is ONE very small and simple change I recommend that will make a HUGE difference in your life and that of your child.
It’s painless… It’s free… It’s Accountability.
I think any first grader and up can understand a discussion about how you would like him to take charge more often and do certain things “on his own”. It can be something very small like getting the milk out of the refrigerator, rather than having you do it because you’re the parent or you’re closer to the fridge.
Use your imagination. What would you like him to do? Make sure it is developmentally appropriate – you wouldn’t ask him to drive himself to school if he did not have a license or know how to drive.
Anything you can do, even the smallest thing, to build accountability and have your children “earn” their goodies in life, will enhance peace at home.
What’s the big deal about “accountability”?
Accountability is the basis for all responsible behavior. We as a culture have managed to grow the most narcissistic and entitled youth on the planet. Just look around. They are not beyond blatantly demanding that you buy them all sorts of things because everyone else has them. If not stopped, this cycle of behavior teaches children that they have tremendous power to get what they want. All they have to do is shed one well practiced tear, and their wish comes true.
The next stage of development is abject disrespect and surliness. Those of you with significant resources know exactly what I am talking about. “Oy vay, where has my sweet little son/daughter gone?” “That kid has some kind of mouth on him/her!!” “I never talk that way to them!!”
What if… you don’t give them everything they want?
Unfortunately, since the end of World War II and Dr. Spock the pediatrician, we have formulated in our minds that if we do not provide our children with everything they want, they will be unhappy and not love us. Take it a step further, and parents have honest fears of fostering mental disturbance and driving everybody to a therapist. (This is not a joke) It is part of our culture and it is stuff of countless therapy sessions, although labeled differently for insurance coverage.
Over 35 years, I have seen many very good parents succumb to this scenario. I have spent many hours teaching parents how to say “no” to their children without the fear of falling apart or causing irreparable harm to their children’s psyche.
What if you say “no”?
Just the other day, I was interviewing the parents of a 2nd grade boy to help figure out why he is so argumentative at home and does not follow directions at school. During the process, the boy asked to play with a LEGO plane that was on my bookshelf. I told him “No, it belongs to someone else who left it with me for safe keeping.”
Who do you think got more upset – the boy or the mother? She turned red and was shaking! Now, the boy looked sad but he kept it together (called “managing frustration” which is a key task of child development). Later, the mother told me how she observed a tear developing in her son’s eye and how my behavior upset him. I let her know that the therapy process had just begun and her son will have the opportunity to “earn” a LEGO set of his own to take home.
That is how we prevent narcissism and entitlement in our youth and build a sense of accountability.
That is all fine and dandy. Now show me how to do it.
Let’s take money as an example. Kids are always asking parents for money or toys or just about anything they want. And what do we do? We give it to them.
What if children did not get allowance or “things” without having to earn them? What must they “do” to earn their allowance or that special item they desire?
Pick only one or two behaviors you want changed by yesterday and make them the sole method of earning the money or points so your children can get the things that are dear to them. You provide no reminders and carefully track their performance. If done properly, they will focus like laser beams on these two items because that is the only route to gratifying their needs. You continue your focus on these two areas until they have mastered follow-through on them for at least 3 weeks without any reminders. At the end of 3 weeks of mastered behavior, switch them out for 2 new behaviors using the same arrangement.
Good luck, and contact me if you have any questions.