Some parents rush into a home and remove everything breakable within reach when their young children enter someone else’s home. Should this be the way? Children can learn very early in life about rewards and punishment and they also can be taught acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour.
The earlier we teach them, the less pain and embarrassment they are likely to cause us as parents and themselves as persons.
It is very important to recognize and understand that good behaviour is applauded because it makes others happy. Children should be rewarded and praised when they act in accordance with accepted norms as they will soon learn that it contributes to their own happiness and the happiness of others.
So often we take good behaviour for granted and fail to affirm the child. For example, one of the best ways to inculcate diligence and punctuality in children is to do things with them and teach them an appreciation of time and how starting a task in a timely manner contributes to its success.
Simple tasks in the home like laying table mats or folding clothes can be enjoyed and be stepping-stones to more important tasks.
Children can be taught to set their own targets and achieve them through their own effort. But parents must be around to guide, encourage and help when necessary.
Parents should consciously set tasks and work at them with their children to teach them how to plan the steps of their work and for them to understand the concept of time and effort.
This is not easy and that it is why parents need to give their “prime time” to their children.
Question: How can I acquaint my twelve-year-old with the need for responsible behaviour throughout his life? He is desperately in need of this understanding.
Answer: One important objective during the pre-adolescent period is to teach the child that actions have inevitable consequences. One of the most serious casualties in a permissive society is the failure to connect those two factors, behaviour and consequences.
A three-year-old child screams insults at his mother, but Mom stands blinking her eyes in confusion. A Standard One child defies his teacher, but the school makes allowances for his age and takes no action. A ten-year-old is caught stealing sweets in a store but is released to the recognizance of her parent.
A fifteen-year-old sneaks the keys to the family car, but her father pays the fine when she is arrested. A seventeen-year-old drives his new car like a maniac, and his parents pay for the repairs when he wraps it round a telephone pole.
All through childhood, loving parents seem determined to intervene between behaviour and consequences, breaking the connection and preventing the valuable learning that could and should have occurred.
Thus, it is possible for a young man or woman to enter adult life not really knowing that life “bites” – that every move we make directly affects our future — and that irresponsible behaviour eventually produces sorrow and pain. Such a person secures his first job and arrives late for work three times during the first week.
Later, when he is fired in an exchange of angry words, he becomes bitter and frustrated. It was the first time in his life that Mom and Dad couldn’t come running to rescue him from the unpleasant consequences. (Unfortunately, many parents still try to bail out the grown children even when they are in their twenties and live away from home.)
What is the result? This overprotection produces emotional cripples who often develop lasting characteristics of dependency and a kind of perpetual adolescence.
How does one connect behaviour with consequences? By being willing to let the child experience a reasonable amount of pain or inconvenience when he behaves irresponsibly. When John misses the school bus through his own dawdling, let him walk a mile or two and enter school in mid-morning (unless safety factors prevent this).
If Jane carelessly loses her pocket money, let her skip a meal. Obviously, it is possible to carry this principle too far, being harsh and inflexible with an immature child. But the best approach is to expect boys and girls to carry the responsibility that is appropriate for their age and occasionally to taste the bitter fruit that irresponsibility bears. In so doing, behaviour is wedded to consequences, just like in real life.
Question: I have a horrible time getting my ten-year-old daughter ready to catch the school bus each morning. She will get up when I insist, but she either goes back to bed or plays as soon as I leave the room. I have to push and warn her every few minutes or else she will be late. So I get more and more angry and usually end up screaming insults at her. I know this is not the best way to handle the situation, but I sometimes feel that she makes me want to beat her. Is there a way I can get her moving without a fight every day?
Answer: In a sense, you are perpetuating your daughter’s folly by assuming the responsibility for getting her ready each morning. A ten-year-old should definitely be able to handle that task on her own initiative, but your anger is not likely to bring it about. We had a very similar problem with our own daughter when she was ten. Perhaps the solution we worked out will be helpful to you.
Danae’s morning time problem related primarily to her compulsivity about her room. She would not leave for school each day unless her bed was made perfectly and every bracelet was in its proper place. This was not something we taught her; she has always been very meticulous about her possessions.
Danae could easily finish these tasks on time if she was motivated to do so, but she was never in a particular hurry. Therefore, my wife began to fall into the same habit you described, warning, threatening, punishing, and ultimately becoming angry as the clock moved toward the deadline.
Shirley and I discussed the problem and agreed that there had to be a better method of getting through the morning. I subsequently created a system that we called “Checkpoints.” It worked like this: Danae was instructed to be out of bed and standing upright before six-thirty each morning. It was her responsibility to set her own clock radio and get herself out of bed.
If she succeeded in getting up on time (even one minute later was considered a missed item), she immediately went to the kitchen, where a chart was taped to the refrigerator door. She then circled yes or no, with regard to the first checkpoint for that date. It couldn’t have been more simple. She either did or did not get up by six-thirty.
The second checkpoint occurred forty minutes later, at seven-ten. By that time, she was required to have her room straightened to her own satisfaction, be dressed and have her teeth brushed, hair combed, etc., and be ready to begin practicing the piano.
Forty minutes was ample time for these tasks, which could actually be done in ten or fifteen minutes if she wanted to hurry. Thus, the only way she could miss the second checkpoint was to ignore it deliberately.
Now, what meaning did the checkpoints have? Did failure to meet them bring anger and wrath and gnashing of teeth? Of course not. The consequences were straightforward and fair. If Danae missed one checkpoint, she was required to go to bed thirty minutes earlier than usual that evening.
If she missed two, she went to bed an hour before her assigned hour. She was permitted to read during that time in bed, but she could not watch television or talk on the telephone.
This little game took all the morning pressure off Shirley and placed it on our daughter’s shoulders, where it belonged. There were occasions when my wife got up in time to fix breakfast, only to find Danae sitting soberly at the piano, clothed and in her right mind.
This system of discipline can serve as a model for parents who have similar behavioural problems with their children. It was not oppressive; in fact, Danae seemed to enjoy having a target to achieve. The limits of acceptable performance were defined beyond question. The responsibility was clearly placed on the child. And it required no adult anger or foot stamping.
Adaptations of this concept are available to resolve other problems in your home, too. The only limit lies in the creativity and imagination that you bring to the situation.
This article was written by Focus on the Family Malaysia and the Questions and Answers are extracted from “The Complete Marriage & Family Home Reference Guide” by Dr. James Dobson with permission.