I hope your school year is smoothing out as we move into beautiful autumn weather. If your house is like mine, you are seeing some awesome improvements this year over last: Remembering backpacks, organizing papers, bringing homework supplies home, and so on. It is a breath of fresh air!
At the same time, maybe you are seeing those old habits from your child as well: Forgetting completed homework at home, assignments slipping through the cracks here and there, important papers ending up in the recycling can, and such?
So what is our first instinct to do as a parent? Lecture! Oh yes, lecture them on the important value of responsibility; remind them of what they need to do, when they need to do it, and why it needs to be done; and give them examples of all the ways they could be more responsible at school and home. And, if lecturing doesn't work, we throw in a threat or two for good measure.
Yet, every parenting expert tells us that lecturing about responsibility actually interferes with our children learning how to be responsible! It has the opposite effect!
How frustrating is that?!
When we remind, nag and lecture our children, we are giving them the disempowering message: "You are not capable of handling this without me." And, since our children love us, they believe us and quietly become dependent on our nagging...which requires us to turn up the nagging and lecturing volume...which we don't like...so we nag and lecture more...which teaches them that they can't function without us...so they are slower to realize their own self-empowerment necessary for becoming independent, functioning adults...then we nag and lecture about that...Yikes!
In my practice, I have seen how this negative cycle can cause anxiety and even depression in children and teenagers. If mom or dad is always telling them what to do, why should they learn to make their own decisions and be responsible for the consequences for those choices? Yet, our kids want to be responsible, even if they scream and holler about it in the moment. An accountable child is a happy child!
I'll repeat that: An accountable child is a happy child!
Say it with me: An accountable child is a happy child!
Let's put ourselves in their position for a moment: Pretend that you are starting a new job, something that you are fairly familiar with, but still need some guidance here and there. You soon learn that your boss is a micro-manager. A micro-manager is someone who has their fingers all over what is yours to do. You find this boss always is in your business, over-critiquing every move you make, lecturing you about what you did wrong upon a perfectly acceptable project completion, what you have left to do, when you left a paperclip on your desk at night...you get the idea. How would that make you feel? Pretty resentful, right? Would you be motivated to go the extra mile, knowing that you'll be lectured about it anyway? Probably not. Your job would become an oppressive task you had to do, accomplishing only what your boss tells you do so that he'll finally shut up.
Ooo! Do we sound like a teenager now? I think so!
So now that we get it, what can we do about it? How can we support our children's self-responsibility, minus the nagging and lecturing?
By taking responsibility for our own business. I know it seems like we do that every minute, but perhaps there is an area of parenting where we can take this a step further. Think of an area in your child's daily life where you would like him or her to be more responsible. You can probably think of several, but take one at a time. Do you want your child to pick up their wet towels off the wood floor after showering? Do you want them to be more on top of their homework? Do you want them to be kinder (or at least civil) to their sibling?
Next, here is the question to ask yourself: What do I have control over in this situation?
Do I have control over my child's arm the moment he drops the wet towel on the floor? Um, no. Do I have control over how long that towel stays there? Yes. Do I have control over my child enough to will him to pick up his wet towel? No. Do I have control over how much he pays me to pick up his wet towel? Ah, yes!
What does my child have control over? Choosing in the future to drop the wet towel and pay mom, or hang it up and save a buck. Who's happy about being responsible now?
Let's try another example:
Do I have control over whether or not my child does his homework? Not really, unless I forcibly sit her down at the table, etc. Do I have control over what the teacher does with her if her homework doesn't get done? No. Do I have control over whether she stays in at recess or gets an F for the assignment? No. Do I have control over what college she gets into? Nope. Then what do I have control over? I have control over what time I am available to help with homework, when the t.v. and computer get to be used, whether or not she has texting services on her cell phone, whether or not I drive her to piano lessons if homework isn't done, what she is allowed to do over the weekend based on her grades in school...You get the idea.
What does my child have control over? Whether or not the homework gets done.
This is how we take responsibility for ourselves as parents: Owning what we can and are willing to do, and leave the rest up to the child.
Okay, last example: Being more respectful to a sibling
What do I have control over?
Do I have control over what comes out of my child's mouth? Don't I wish! But, sadly, no. Do I have control over any possible consequences for unfortunate behavior? Absolutely!
One magical little question--"What do I have control over?"--can make all the difference in the world for a child and for us as parents! Pair this with the mantra: "An accountable child is a happy child," and you have a formula for a more delightful parenting experience!
Feel free to call or email any questions or comments you might have. For more support on this topic of ending nagging and lecturing, visit this amazing article at Empowering Parents: Irresponsible Children: Why Nagging and Lecturing Don't Work
Helpful Parenting Sites:
Love and Logic Parenting