So often when people ask us for help with their children’s behavior they include the phrase “What if my children don’t…. ? (And then, the often, very distressed parents fill in the blank with a detailed description of what the child is doing that is wrong or is not doing, that the parents want the child to do.) It seems to me that so many parents have simply learned jump to the negative behavior and the artificial consequences of failure, before even considering the concept of structuring a situation that will predict success! In a nutshell, they seem to be more worried about reacting to what their kids have done wrong rather than working in a preventative process of teaching the desired behavior, before their children are in crisis.
In the following series of seven articles I will attempt help you, as a parent. to focus on giving your children some solid reasons to adjust their behavior in a positive manner before (and the real key is to try to start before trouble arises) any problems arise. In this series of articles I will simply be applying Rule Number One of our Five Rules for Parents from the Parenting with Dignity Curriculum.
As I go through these tried and true Parenting with Dignity Techniques techniques with you, please keep in mind that the only way to elicit permanent and positive change in the behavior of your children lies in changing the way that they think! “The ideas in their heads will rule their world!” These techniques will give you tools for presenting ideas to your children that will allow them to make wonderful decisions for themselves! As a parent you will be guiding your children in making great decisions for themselves. They will progressively become able to make good solid decisions with wonderful outcomes for themselves. Also, you will see that the decisions your children make, will lead your children to choose to act in appropriate and socially acceptable ways.
I believe that these techniques are really nothing but some pretty sound thinking skills! So here we go with the first of “Seven Reasons for Children to Adjust their Behavior”. (Please note that if your children use these seven decision making skills effectively, you will not ever have to even think about using punishment or consequences for inappropriate behavior... because there simply not be any!)
1. RESPECT FOR AUTHORITY - "Do what we are asking you to do because society says so in formal ways."
Start at the earliest of ages teaching your children that a civilized world will always have rules and laws. Teach them that these rules and laws are not an annoyance; they are an aid to us all and especially to them. Rules and laws protect our freedom; they protect rights, privileges, property, and even our lives.
Explain to them the chaos that would result from a society without stop signs, property laws, and rights to privacy, opportunity, expression, and freedom from injury. (NOTE: it is almost impossible to teach respect for laws, and rules if your children watch you violate those same rules and laws! You cannot speed and then demand that your children drive the speed limit.)
Now let’s talk a little bit about how you might start this process of teaching this respect for and appreciation of rules and laws to very young children. Riding in a car with little children always presents a great opportunity for teaching rules and laws. Also, the time spent riding in a car is often a time when small children become bored and frustrated. While driving with toddlers in their safety seats, make a habit of having them fill time by pointing out stop signs. Show them how well traffic works out for all, when everyone obeys come to a stop at a stop sign. Teach them to be on the lookout for red stop lights, yellow caution lights, and green go lights. As they get older and of an age to understand more complex rules and laws of the road, teach them what those laws and rules are and of most importance, teach them how those laws work to make roads more safe and efficient.
The next step is much easier if you started on this process at an early age but still works even if you did not start early. As children begin to approach driving age, point out to them every time that you pass a police car how driving at the proper speed and obeying the law makes it a certainty that you will receive no tickets and that you will not be stopped by those police!
As children get older, begin to teach them about the laws of our nation, your state, and your local community. Teach them, early on, about the laws governing littering and show them both the wonderful benefits to all when people obey those laws and point out the mess that is made by just a few people who violate those laws.
As I answer questions from both adults and kids from all across America, what I find is that many parents do not even know or understand the laws that govern our country! It is not too difficult to understand why their children are unable to make good decisions about obeying the laws if the parents do not even understand those laws!
Make it a priority to help children understand what the laws are governing rowdy and obnoxious behavior. Find out the statutes in your community that spell out what can and cannot be done legally. Read the statutes aloud together as a fairly regular activity at dinners and while traveling. Let your children discuss with you possible situations and scenarios where they might be tempted to violate those laws and statutes. Discuss with them possible ways to make good decisions about obeying those laws and rules.
Get copies of the city, county, state, and federal laws. Read them out loud with your children. Read the laws about illegal drugs. Read the laws about minor alcohol possession and consumption. Read aloud with them the consequences that society will, very predictably, hand down if they are caught in violation of those laws.
It never ceases to amaze me as I visit prisons and talk to inmates. Most of them did not understand the laws that they broke which resulted in their incarceration! Please do not let this happen to your children.
Give your children the information necessary for making good decisions about obeying rules and laws. Please do not wait until they have violated one of those laws for them to gain this understanding! Explain the laws governing private property and the respect of the private property of others. Let your children understand, from a very early age, that a law requiring them to respect the property of others insures that their private property will be likewise protected.
When your children reach school age, get copies of the school rules and point out to them that obeying these rules brings trust and respect back to them from everyone at school. Teach them that the children who obey the rules almost always receive special privileges and opportunities. Let them know that obeying the rules insures that they will have the maximum freedom to control their own behavior. Let them see that children who constantly break rules are constantly being given lots more supervision and have much many limitations on their freedom.
So many parents seem to want to wait until it is too late to give the instruction to their children about the laws governing drugs, alcohol, or dating behavior until their children are already involved in the temptations of those illegal and inappropriate behaviors. I guess that parents believe that many kids are “too young” for those discussions, and then they wind up with a child who is in trouble with the law, pregnant, or addicted to an illegal drug!
Start as early as you feel that your children are capable of understanding the terms that you are using.
Just recently in our community there were two teenage boys who were charged with rape for something that they thought was just innocent dating behavior! They are now facing charges for one of the most serious felonies in all of our society, simply because they did not understand that what they were doing was even illegal! They had seen the behavior in the movies and heard their friends talk about it as if was just a fun thing to do! But they did not know the law nor the legal consequences of breaking that law! And now those boys are facing a real possibility of going to prison.
Children can be led to make great decisions for themselves by having their parents simply insure that they understand laws and rules!