Directing, dictating or otherwise coercing a child into a behavior is almost always counter productive in the long run. This ‘Director Approach’ usually manifests itself in one of the following ways: (1) compliance but at the expense of a degraded relationship; (2) blatant rebellion; (3) it encourages deception; (4) it creates dependency at the expense of good decision-making habits, the essence of responsibility.
Responsibility means making decisions that bring joy and harmony into one’s life over the long run. Making good decisions is no different than any skill: a good decision-maker and has become such because she has had plenty of practice making decisions; most certainly, some of them painful.
Think on this: a child who makes poor decisions falls into that habit for one of three reasons: (1) he has been denied the opportunity to practice making decisions for himself; (2) he has been insulated (protected by mom or dad) from the painful consequences of poor decisions; (3) deep down, he does not believe he is worthy of happiness so he confirms his worthlessness by making decisions which bring pain unto himself (self-sabotage caused by low self-esteem).
Six Rules to Promote Responsibility:
1. Never tell a child what to do. Tell what will happen as a result of the choices she makes.
2. Allow true choice. Try to avoid becoming emotionally vested (angry, frustrated) when presenting choices or if your child makes a poor choice. Envision this: your child faced with two choices and the consequences of choice ‘A’ will bring your child desirable consequences and the consequences of choice ‘B’ will bring your child pain. Relax, stay out of it and let your child make the choice without even subtle interference from you. Then, no matter what choice your child makes, share in her happiness or pain (known as empathizing). Either way, your child ‘wins’ by learning a lesson taught by consequences and your relationship is strengthened rather than weakened! Also, remember this: every time you send your child this message, “Son/daughter, this truly is your choice,” you are also sending this bigger message “Son/daughter, a wonderful life truly is your choice.” That message is more than empowering—it is the foundation of a truly vital, happy individual!
3. Allow natural consequences to be the teaching agent, not you! Natural consequences are powerful and neutral teachers; lecturing is weak and degrades relationships! The natural consequence of a child leaving their school lunch at home is to go hungry for 3 hours, a far more effective ‘lesson’ than mom or dad trekking the lunch to school and lecturing to ‘remember your things’. The natural consequence of going to bed late is to be sleepy the next day. Emotionally healthy human beings move towards joy and pleasure and away from pain and this cycle repeated tends to reinforce better emotional health. Resist at all costs the tendency to insulate your children from the pain of poor choices as it robs them of essential tools for happiness.
4. Consequences must be affordable. Of course, it is the parents’ responsibility to step in and deny choice if the consequences are not affordable. The consequence of a two year old ‘choosing’ to cross the street by herself are not affordable. Always ask this filtering question, “are the consequences of a poor decision affordable?” If you are one of the many parents who habitually seem to err on the side of overprotection, interrupt your impulse by pondering what is the worst that could really happen in the event of a poor choice?
5. Eliminate punishment. Punishment sends the message, I am administering pain upon you to coerce a different behavior. Punishment sets the stage for animosity and degraded relationships. Allowing natural consequences to ‘administer the pain’ keeps relationships intact even when their child makes a poor choice: “Joanie, I feel badly you are so sleepy this morning. When I go to bed late I am sleepy too and it’s sure is a bummer”.
6. Resist the temptation to ‘sum up’ a poor choice. "Now, Suzy, do you see what happens when you stay up late?" This is nothing but a cloaked “I told you so” and it can ruin a wonderful learning experience because it tends to divert your child’s energies toward being angry at you rather than reflecting on the reality, my poor decision was the cause of my pain.