I believe the ultimate goal of any parent is to rear an independent, responsible child. This may seem obvious, but most of us know it takes real focus to do it. Children don’t suddenly become ready for the world when they turn 18. They need to practice behaviours leading toward independence, starting early on. Is it any wonder that many first year university students lose their way, if they’ve had little to no practice behaving independently, how can we expect them to suddenly sleep right, eat right, exercise right and make good decisions simply because they’re now at university? Here are four easy rules for helping your children to become self-sufficient adults.
1) Reinforce independent, responsible behaviour specifically and immediately. With so many distractions in our lives, we often don’t take the time to focus on what our children are doing right, but rather on what they’re doing wrong. Which means that many children get far more parental and teacher attention for negative behaviour than for positive. Reinforcing positive behaviour not only rewards our young people, it also helps them learn what they can do in a similar situation to earn that reinforcement again. To make this reinforcement effective, praise your child with details of what their good behaviour looked like: “When you took the rubbish out without me asking you to, it really helped me and showed you’re being kind and considerate.” And make sure to “catch your child being good” soon after the behaviour.
2) Change undesirable behaviours by reinforcing alternative desired behaviours. An appropriate response to any parent or teacher question about punishment is always, “What would you prefer your child to do instead?” For example, if your children are arguing in the backseat of the car while you are driving, or talking during Science class, you could scream at them to be quiet or, instead, distract them and say, “Tell me about your day, or who can tell me what they have discovered in class today?”
3) Ignore mild to moderately inappropriate behaviour and allow logical, natural consequences to occur. Most of our childrens’ inappropriate behaviours are mildly to moderately inappropriate—think whining, talking too much, procrastinating, forgetting, complaining and so on—and done primarily to gain parent or teacher (negative) attention. The best response to these kinds of behaviour is no response, or “extinction.” When parents and teachers ignore these behaviours in their children, it is amazing to see how powerful doing nothing is. The key: Be consistent. When you ignore some misbehaviour, it will most likely escalate. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring it at first but responding to it later. Be steadfast in your extinction. With extinction, logical consequences happen. For example, siblings who fight and argue are left to work it out amongst themselves. The child who is continually whining and complaining is not very popular with their peers. The child who refuses to eat what’s being served for dinner is calmly asked to leave the table.
4) Know that it’s your response to your child’s behaviour that really matters. Most parents and teachers mistakenly believe they must forcibly control their child’s behaviour and make them behave. I believe, however, that an effective parent and teacher systematically provides appropriate consequences to a child’s behaviour. For example, when you see good behaviour, reinforce it with a positive response. When a child makes a bad choice, briefly ignore the minor behaviour or apply a logical and reasonable consequence, like time-out, or the removal of certain privileges. Raising independent and responsible children is not easy, but when both teachers and parents are consistent and reasonable. We can effectively guide our children to achieve success both now and in the years to come.
The next Principal’s Parent Evening is scheduled for the 23rd October 2015, commencing at 6.30pm. The topic for the evening will be “How to Raise a Responsible Child” and will take place in Bryan Hall.
Humility is the fear of the LORD; its wages are riches and honour and life. In the paths of the wicked are snares and pitfalls, but those who would preserve their life stay far from them. Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:4-6