Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Parents Tool Kit

Skills For Life

As we raise our kids they develop attitudes and skills that will hopefully help them in other areas of life. However learning is a process that builds on previous knowledge and skills. Just as high school builds on the foundation of middle and elementary school, we can't expect to be able to teach our kids everything from a young age. Some skills are better learned when the child is older and has the foundation of previous learning.

Learning to respect authority figures, obey the rules, follow directions and cooperate are the foundation for learning to get along well with
others in society. At home and in school it's appropriate for children to be guided in this way from toddler to elementary ages. On the foundation of having learned respect for rules and authority, following directions and cooperating, more advances skills such as negotiation and mutual problem solving can be developed more appropriately.

Negotiation Skills

Of course there's not an exact day when a child transitions from learning one level of life skills to another, and this will vary with each child and family. A third child will learn to negotiate a lot sooner than the first one did simply because of the competition among siblings. However, as parents we want to be careful not to fall into the trap of allowing too much negotiation (with parents) too soon, otherwise respect for authority and rules are lost and the child learns to be very self-centered.   

Do not negotiate with toddlers and preschoolers, they need to learn the rules and to cooperate. For little ones who like to make their own decisions, give them choices such as: "It's time to go Billy, would you like to wear the red shirt or the blue one?".  Providing controlled choices helps the child learn decision making skills and gives them the limited authority they need over their own life. When it is appropriate, a choice between "this or that" can help avoid power struggles between parent and child by distracting them from their own thought processes for a moment.

Parents don't need to be dictators, but we also don't want to be pushovers. Kid's need to learn that "freedom" exists within the realm of responsibility toward others. That means that when we are making decisions and choices through out life we are also considering the impact our decisions have  on others. This concept is learned over the long course of development from birth to adulthood,  much of it by example, but also through parental guidance.

As kids get older they need an increasing amount of involvement in decision making about their activities, clothes, education and lifestyle. Preteens & teens are very much influenced by their peer group and parents can find this stage of development a little scary. Keep your expectations clear but be willing to negotiate on some things. 

Recognize Stages
One time I told my high school age son if he would get his hair cut for Christmas vacation at his grandparents, he could grow his hair as long as he wanted afterward, and he did. Eventually he grew out of it, lets face it, long hair is harder to take care of than short hair. The lesson here from my point of view was for my son to learn to make a small sacrifice for the sake of respecting his grandparents, so I negotiated with him. Because I knew the hair was a "stage" he was going through it didn't bother me that he would grow it below his shoulders afterward. Now he's 23, likes his hair short, has graduated college (is making more money than I ever did), and respects his elders while making his own decisions about life.
Mutual Problem Solving 
Discuss your views with preteens & teens in a calm manner. This is probably the most important thing for parents to remember: don't overreact. If you want your kids to listen to you, you have to listen to them first. You can tell them that you need some time to think about it and that you'd like to have a discussion later if you need to calm down. If a teenager gets the idea that you disapprove of everything they think or want to do, they will often begin to act covertly and live a double life.

Sometimes you can ask them what they think is right, or fair, before stating your own opinions. This builds trust and mutual respect. Many times they are unsure of their own feelings about a situation and they are seeking your guidance. One time my daughter asked me if she could go someplace with her friends knowing that it was a questionable activity, when I hesitated to answer she said, “You can say no, Mom.” I realized that she needed for me to say no, because she didn't know how to say no herself, but wanted to.

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