Monday, January 27, 2014

Parenting 101: It's Easier to Give Something than to Take it Away

I have a confession to make.  I can be a very doting father, too doing.  I love my girls, and I love to give them everything that I can.  I like to see them happy, and I love to see them enjoying freedoms.  Not a bad thing.

But here's where it gets tricky.  When little Susie thinks that the new tablet computer she got for her birthday is simply "hers", however and whenever she wants, and little Susie is having a hard time doing what she is told, Dad is left with really only one good option:  take away the tablet. And this, of course, results in Susie getting upset or throwing a tantrum because something is being taken away that is "hers", something she views as something she has a right to.  True, Dad can endure the wrath and even impose greater consequences when she acts out, but can't there be a better way?

What I'm learning is that a better approach is NOT to create an environment where children see their things as "rights" but rather as rewards and privileges.  This means that certain things remain controlled by the parent and are given to be enjoyed as a reward for taking care of their responsibilities.  Children do, I would argue, have "rights" to certain things.  They have the right to be cared for, fed, sheltered, loved, educated, and treated with respect.  However, they do not have the "right" to watch television whenever they want, to play with that new toy, or sit in front of that new computer game.  In this regard, what they need is their parent to set limits and establish rules.

In real life, rules govern our ability to enjoy the pleasures, rewards, and privileges in life.  These rules pertain to responsibilities, such as our job and our care for our things, and they pertain to social interactions, such as family relationships, friendships, and eventually romantic relationships.  Adults set those rules for themselves (call it "being responsible" or having "self control"), and when they can't the government or natural consequences take over -they wind up in jail, lose jobs, lose relationships, etc.  Our goal as parents is to teach our children what it is like to set good rules so that when they are older they will know how to set good rules for themselves.

But how we set those rules and how we communicate them matters.  After all, which would sound better to you?

"If you don't do [fill in the blank], I am taking away your tablet!"

or...

"When you are done [fill in the blank], you get to play with your tablet!"

The first is a threat.  The second is a promise of reward, giving them something to look forward to beyond the presumably undesirable task they must finish.  It is just easier to give your child a reward for a job well done than it is to rip something out of their hands when they don't do it.

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