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Monday, March 4, 2013

How to Give Your Child a Choice and a Voice and Still Maintain Control

When it comes to raising children, we can all use a little (and in some cases a lot of) help. Parents play only a small part today in influencing their children, because today's children rely on the media, their peers, other family members, and even various organizations to inform them about the world and their place in it.
Images of violence and voices of disrespect garner lots of media attention with glorified coverage of such things as grisly murders, violent drug busts, and frightening abductions. If a child sees a brother beat up his sister on TV, he might remember that kind of behavior the next time his sister takes one of his electronic devices, because a child's world view is limited only to his or her own few years of experiences. Children are more likely to handle anger and rage with short-term solutions that will cause them to suffer long-term consequences (bringing a gun to school to shoot bullies, for example).
As a result of their children's limited understanding, parents have to ask themselves, what exactly are my child's experiences? How much time does my child devote to gaming or watching cartoons compared to other activities? What does my child think about what he or she sees and hears on our television or computer screen? 
Children may be frightened by some of the things they see and hear, and parents need to engage them in discussions about those terrifying situations when they arise.  If you notice your daughter staring at the television with mouth agape after witnessing a particularly horrifying beating, talk to her about it. What are her thoughts and opinions?

If you admit that your child spends an inordinate amount of time playing with electronic devices, balance that time with movies you can watch together, board games you can play together, healthy outdoor or even indoor physical activities, and fun family events. Because if all children do day in and day out is sit in front of gaming devices, your child's life experiences equate to garbage in – garbage out.  
Children also need positive role models, because they often see news reports showing wayward kids high on meth, pregnant teenage moms who get their own television programs, wealthy beauties throwing temper tantrums, violent video games, screaming parents, chaos, manipulation, and more. Those are the types of people who appear to children to be successful because they've made it on TV.
Why don't more local television programs showcase kids who excel in school or other activities and ask the parents of those children to share their secrets for raising responsible and conscientious children – or highlight individuals who coordinate monetary collections for victims of the most recent worldly disaster? 
Why don't they? Because that kind of coverage is not sensational. Media highlight the weird and the aberrant – and sports – and kids think that in order to be accepted and in order to be noticed, they must fit into one of the aforementioned categories. 

What children don't understand is that media cover outrageous events, not because it is normal, but because it is ABnormal. We might want to see a feel-good movie where the protagonist beats all odds, but in real-life we are more likely to feel our hearts beat faster and our blood rush more with exciting entertainment, and if that "entertainment" includes mass murder, car chases, bank robberies, or arson, we are all the more glued to our sets.
Who wants to see some kid we've never met win an award for some local achievement we've never heard about when the most important people are obviously either criminals, sports champions, wayward politicians, contestants who fight with each other to win fame or money, or drug-addicted actors?
With all our children have to compete with, how can parents influence their children – our children – to behave in ways that will provide a roadmap to success? 
Despite media and other influences, we must learn to overcome the many challenges that face us as parents, even when, many times, we fail to live up to our own expectations. One of the problems is that we often raise our children the same way our parents raised us. And sometimes those methods just don't work. Our world has changed significantly since we were children, no matter which decade we were born in prior to this new century. 

If your child doesn't respond to your type of parenting, you run into brick walls as you try to force that type of parenting on your child. Again and again we ask ourselves, WHY is this child so difficult? When what we should be asking is WHY is what I'm doing not working?
Whether the following definition was spoken by Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, or somebody else, I think we've all heard the phrase, "insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results." 
Look around. The mother who berates her child in front of customers at the local grocery store, the father who beats his kid in full view of a public arena, and the teacher who singles out the learning disabled child to belittle continue to "solve" the "problem" by using the same techniques over and over without giving any thought whatsoever to changing strategies, without giving the child an opportunity to explain why he or she is upset, without giving the child an opportunity to choose a different behavior, and without giving the child the option to voice his or her opinions.
And the reason parents give to explain why they continue to raise children in ways that prove to be unsuccessful? – "That's how my parents raised me and I turned out all right."

I once babysat three children whose mother abdicated her role as mom when the father decided to take over the parenting role, because Mom was a drug addict and alcoholic. She walked the neighborhood caring a beer in one hand after popping whatever pills she could find into her mouth, and holding in her other hand for all the neighbors to see, her weed. One day after Mom moved out, the kids came over with shoulders slumped and tears streaked down their faces. 
The oldest, a boy, looked particularly upset. His little sisters were crying. I tried to make light of the situation by saying, "Somebody got in trouble, huh?"
And that's when the boy unleashed all of his emotions. I don't know what prompted the father to focus his anger on his son, but it wouldn't matter what it was – his reaction to whatever it was his son did, was wrong. The father had taken his son under the chin by his shirt, twisted the collar, and then picked up his son and threw him against the wall. These children did not even have a voice to use. They were so terrified of their father, they couldn't speak. *
And that's a problem. Some parents believe that when children are afraid of them, children respect their parents. However, fear ≠ respect.
After reading Nancy Tracy's article, How to Use Child Rearing Methods on Husbands, I decided to write the blog you are now reading. 

One book Nancy mentions is quite old, written in 1964, by Adlerian psychologist Rudolf Dreikurs, entitled Children: The Challenge, a book that discusses logical consequences. If children understand a direct link between action and consequence, they are more likely to choose behaviors consistent with the rewards that most appeal to them.
Another helpful book, and one I find invaluable, is Dr. Phil's Life Code (to read my evaluation of the book, please click One Book Everybody Should Own, Read, and Absorb). 
My children are grown, but I know that when somebody suggested something that would improve my parenting skills, I took advantage of whatever constructive advice was given to me. We can all use help, and we should all avail ourselves of any help we can get.

However, if you're the type of parent who throws his children against the wall, you will probably deny that you are abusive and you will continue to behave the way your parents behaved. If your children think they have no choice but to act as you acted and no voice because fear deprived them of learning to speak for themselves, your grandchildren will suffer the consequences. Slamming a child against the wall is NOT OK! Abusing a child in any way is NOT OK! 
Prepare your children for new life experiences. Teach your children to speak up for themselves. Allow them to voice their opinions without criticism. Teach them to back up their opinions with facts. Have family discussions. Engage your children in age-appropriate conversations.
Too many parents sit at the dinner table with tablet or phone in hand and engage only in text-talk. Tune in to your kids while they are young so they won't tune you out when they become teenagers.
* Out of love for his children, I reported that dad to his kids' school.
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