Truth or Consequences! (Part 1)

4 Sep

One of the most difficult parts of helping parents with their parenting skills is teaching them how to set and maintain guidelines with their children. We’ve all known parents who want to be pals with their children. They ask, “Is that all right with you?” “OK, Tiger, we’re going to do it this way. Will that work for you?”
We are still in the age of Spockism — the age of permissive parenting — and no wonder! If parents get their children seriously upset, the kids can call the Division of Youth and Family Services (or whatever it is called in your state). They can claim that their parents are abusing them in some way, for example, not feeding them or abusing them physically. Actually this does happen and parents can find their homes invaded by the Children, Youth and Families Division social workers, checking out their homes and interviewing the parents and the children for suspected abuse.
This is one reason, along with popular culture, that parenting continues to slant toward the permissive side. Permissive parents are usually emotionally supportive and can learn to listen to their children’s feelings, but may be clueless (and perhaps afraid about) how to set guidelines and boundaries for their children.
Setting boundaies and guidelines has to do with establishing mutual respect. Of course, as parents we hope you will bring the accumulated wisdom of your years to bear in establishing such behaviors as good table manners, bedtime routines, homework and extracurricular activities, proper behavior around extended family and community members.
Once you have set an observable example of good behavior, it may be relatively simple to reiterate guidelines at a family meeting. “Please,” “Thank you,” and “Excuse me” are a wonderful start. Learning to share toys, gadgets, and TALKING TIME with siblings is a great follow-on. Appreciating the other person’s point of view is something that comes with time as a child matures. It’s helpful for kids to be able to observe their parents thinking out loud in a compassionate way about difficult situations.
All this having been said, one of the most difficult aspects of good parenting: How do you enforce those guidelines you have carefully established in a way that seems fair to your children? In short, what are the CONSEQUENCES of poorly chosen behavior?
I have worked with some parents who have grounded their teenage daughter for three weeks because she colored her ahir a luminscent rose color! I have also worked with parents who turned their heads the other way when their son was failing a major subject. Obviously the matter of determining a consequence for a deliberate breaking of the rules is not an easy task. I think it was in the operetta “HMS Pinafore” that the famous phrase appeared: “the punishment has to fit the crime.”
Kids will innately feel that a three-week grounding for a minor infringement of the rules is over the top, and they will respond by becoming more rebellious. Communication breakdown will result.
So let’s start by making sure that all family members are aware of the “house rules.” These rules apply so long as a child of any age is living under your roof without paying room and board. If you don’t want recreational drugs in your home, that still aplies to a 23-year-old who has been unable to find a job and is living at home. If quiet time is after 10:30 M, that also applies to adolescents and young adults living at home.
Family meetings can have many uses, but one of them can certainly be to discuss an amendment of a guideline or rule. Such a discussion might go as follows: DAUGHTER: “I know you don’t like to see kids with other than natural hair colors, but if I pay for a rose color dye and leave it on for a month, would you let me see whether I really like the effect?” MOTHER: “Well, you’re right, I don’t like unnatural hair colors, but if you want to try a rose color and you agree to leaving it on for a month without making it blue or green (horror of horrors), OK. I guess I could look on it as an experiment.”
One of the most serious and difficult behaviors to deal with is LYING. People who lie about even the smallest of matters are entering into SLIPPERY territory. Lying destroys trust in relationships and can lead to painful breakdowns and even cutoffs in relationships. We will deal with this topic in our next post! Stay tuned, and e-mail us any questions you may have. Your questions may just help others to be better parents! (jeaneva@comcast.net)

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