How to communicate and teach kids to be self-responsible.
by Eve Noss, Ph.D.
The main purpose of good parenting is to prepare the child for independence. This is almost impossible to imagine when you have an infant or toddler, and often hard to take with a teenager, but it should guide the way in which we make rules from the beginning. One of the best strategies for making rules stick is to take the responsibility off of the parents and put it on the child where it belongs. Involving the child in developing strategies enhances their willingness to follow the rule while building self-responsibility.
1. Not all rules are equal.
Some rules will change and parents should aim for flexibility as the child grows. Safety rules, like wearing a bike helmet, are never negotiable. As soon as children develop language, they can understand rules, although they may not yet understand the reason we do not fiddle with electrical outlets, poke fingers at the dog or put the cereal bowl on our head. However, house rules, such as bedtime, can be changed with the season, who is visiting or the child’s age. One 14-year-old boy was constantly fighting with his parents because they continued to impose the same 7:30 p.m. bedtime established when he was 5 years old! The boy and his parents listened to each other, explained the importance of getting a good night sleep and were able to negotiate a new agreement with each other.
2. Even young children can assist in making rules, including consequences for not following them.
This teaches life-long skills, such as understanding the reason behind the rule, being responsible for their own behavior and attitudes, and engaging in problem-solving and critical thinking. All family members are far more apt to follow the rules if they have a hand in creating them.
3. Explain the reasons for specific rules.
Middle and high school children are becoming increasingly inner-directed and may outwardly rebel when not provided with opportunities to do things in their own way. Unfortunately, the problem-solving part of the brain does not fully develop until the early or mid-20s, and this is the reason that teens with new driver’s licenses are not legally allowed to drive with friends and have to be off the road by 12:30 am. When they are told this in driver’s education class, they understand completely.
4. Have frequent, open discussions.
The inner need for pre-teens and teens to be independent is developmentally appropriate and necessary for dawning adulthood but can cause significant friction between the teen and parents. Therefore, it is helpful to have frequent open discussions about what needs to be done for the family and about each person’s activities.
Eve Noss, Ph.D., is a parent-child mediator with North Shore Community Mediation Center in Beverly, a visiting associate professor at Salem State University School of Social Work and the mother of two sons.