Pointing finger with shadows of boy and dadTeaching Responsibility

“I was so afraid that he [her son] would fail that I forgot to affirm his success.” Iyanla Vanzant.

Iyanla’s statement caused me to do a great deal of thinking about the way parents teach responsibility.

Why is it most parents feel like the only way to correct a child’s behavior is through fear and punishment? Fear and punishment impedes responsibility, it doesn’t inspire it.

Most of us, myself included, were raised by parents who used fear, anger and punishment. Parents say “If it was good enough for me, and I turned out okay, then it’s okay for my kids! I don’t think that turning out okay is good enough for you, or your kids!

Parents spend so much time telling their kids what they can and can’t do, what they should and shouldn’t do, and how they’ve messed up, that they forget to make any comments about what  they should do instead of what they did, and they rarely applaud them when they do something right.

So how can you make the latter form of correcting behavior work in everyday life? It’s a case of shifting the words you use from reactionary to responsive as you correct behavior. And that’s what creates responsibility.

All parents want to achieve listening, cooperation, responsibility, and respect, but aren’t sure how to do that in the middle of correcting behavior. They key is to change the way you address behavior. You don’t have to become permissive. You don’t have to become a drill sergeant either. You can remain connected and firm at the same time. There are ways to go from willfulness, entitlement and disrespect, to acceptance, apology and responsibility.

Here are two sample conversations that share how this can play out. 

Parent to 4 yr. old, “NO, you can’t cross the big kids playground without holding my hand!
4yr. old hears: You say NO to everything. You don’t trust me.
Child runs ahead. Mom yells and runs after him. Scolds him and says, “We’re leaving!”

New Conversation:
Parent to 4yr. old: “You can hold my thumb or wrist as we cross the big kids playground, which do you want?
The child hears: Only big kids get to choose what part of mom’s hand they will hold. She sees I am bigger now.
When a child feels empowered and respected, he is willing to act responsibly.

Parent to 11yr. old, “NO! You can’t have a sleep over; you never did your report!
Child hears: All you do is control my life! I’m never doing that report!

New conversation
Parent to 11yr. old “Sure you can have a sleep over, as soon as your report is turned in.”

Child hears: “If I want a sleep over this weekend, I have to do my report first.”

The first ‘NO! statement shuts a child down. Doesn’t offer him a chance to grow or figure out how to be responsible. Over time the constant NO! creates lack of self esteem, and gives the parent nowhere else to go but directly to punishment if there’s no compliance. It can also cause a child to tantrum or choose further misbehavior.

The second “no”  places success within the child’s reach, while maintaining the boundary. The parent and child remain connected, which opens the door to more learning, if need be.

From a parent’s point of view the shift in the words may seem too subtle to be effective. However, to a child, the vote of confidence encased in a boundary tells the child, this is what you have to do to get what you want. 

The Authentic Parent Series, under “seminars” on the nav bar, has many, many ways to achieve this type of parenting without yelling, punishing, or arguing. Take a look. 


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