Today’s parents have two models of discipline from which to choose. The older approach uses rewards and punishments–the same kind used with animals. Its ultimate goal is obedience. This approach leads to dependence, along with stress, and often poor relationships.
The modern approach makes parenting more joyful. Rather than using manipulation and/or coercion, it encourages empowerment that leads to a more enlightened outcome: responsibility. By focusing on responsibility rather than on obedience, parents experience more positive relationships, become more effective, and increase the joy in their journey.
Which approach sounds better to you?
Why a New Parenting Approach Is Needed
It is important to recognize that children today are exposed to different environments than those in earlier generations. This is one of many reasons that traditional approaches based on coercion and external approaches are not as successful as they once may have been. Here are just a few of the changes in society that are influencing today’s youth:
Internet access to information
Social media such as Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube
Instant communications by cell and smart phones
Really Simple Syndication Internet feeds such as blogs
Emphasis on children being the center of family life
Advertising aimed at youth
Mass media: violence, sex, and short sound bites
Number and gender of parents
Types of models and heroes
Music and lyrics
Protection of childhood innocence–or lack of it
Social interaction and developmental play–or lack of it
Sense of community–or lack of it
Emphasis on rights rather than on responsibility
Increased peer influence and pressure
Lower levels of social skills and impulse control
A by-product of the ease of access to information and contact with others in our technological age is that many young people feel more control over their lives. Today’s young people know and exercise their rights and have an unprecedented level of independence.
As such, when a parent tries to change a youth’s behavior by forcing obedience–by using threats, punishments, bribes, or other coercive or manipulative tactic–the reaction is often resistance.
A typical parental response to this trend might be to blame the youngsters. But think about it for a moment: When we plant flower seeds and if the plant does not blossom, do we blame the flowers? Or does the planter have some responsibility for the growth? Let us remember that parents are the first contacts and models for children.
If you view young people’s misbehavior as a learning opportunity–a chance to help them grow and develop–then misbehavior can become a prompt for meaningful communications. Use such negative situations to help your children become more responsible. This mindset will result in less stress for you and improved relationships for all.
The Three Principles that Promote Responsibility
By using three powerful, enduring, and universal practices–that don’t involve punishment, threats, raising your voice, rewards, or lecturing–you will be amazed at how cooperative your children become.
So often, when we want our children to change, we attempt to influence them by using negative communications rather than positive ones that would actually prompt them to want to do what we would like. Even the worst salesperson knows enough not to make the customer angry. Yet, because we allow our emotions to direct us, we often ignore this commonsense approach and send negative messages. You can easily tell if your communications are sending negative messages if what you say blames, complains, criticizes, nags, punishes, or threatens.
Positive communications elevate the spirit; they offer encouragement and support. They send the message that the other person is capable of handling challenges. Positivity creates hope and prompts feelings of being valued, supported, and respected. Communicating in positive terms triggers enthusiasm, capability, pride, dependability, and responsibility–none of which are triggered by negativity.
Because being positive is so enabling, it makes sense to stop all thoughts and communications that are negative. Therefore, become conscious of phrasing your communications with your children so they will be in positive terms. Continually ask yourself: “How can I communicate this message in a positive way?” For example, saying, “Don’t be late,” is disabling, and prompts being late because the word “don’t” is not visualized; what comes after the “don’t” is what the brain visualizes. “Please be on time,” prompts the picture you want, is enabling, and is much more effective.
When children of any age resist doing something you ask of them or do something contrary to your instructions, rather than force your request on them, offer them choices; then watch how quickly their resistance weakens. Offering choices paves the way to changing behavior and is much more effective than giving commands. By giving the young person some degree of control, you will get more cooperation. There is a simple reason for this: People do not argue with their own decisions.
Even when a youngster thinks there are no choices about whether or not to do something, you can build in some element of choice. Just a small one qualifies because any choice allows the young person to retain dignity and power. For example, when a child is learning to walk down a flight of stairs, it would not be wise to allow the child to go down unassisted. Yet, the youngster is asserting independence and does not want any assistance. By giving a choice of how to walk down the stairs, you can avoid a confrontation: “Would you like to hold the handrail or hold my hand?”
Offering choices is a simple approach you can use to immediately reduce resistance. The empowerment of choice is universal; it works with people of all ages.
The most effective approach for influencing another person to accept an idea is to ask reflective questions. When specific reflective questions are asked, people are prompted to think, reconsider, change their minds, and grow. By asking this type of question, you will accomplish what you want more effectively, with less resistance, and with less stress. By having the youngster reflect, you instantly avoid the child’s natural resistance of being controlled.
Reflective questions are non-coercive. They guide, rather than force. Reflective questions elicit a thinking response and are framed to fit the situation and clarify. Specifically they
Focus on the present or future–as opposed to the past
Often start with “What?” or “How?”
Are usually open-ended in that they require more than a “yes” or “no” answer
As soon as you start asking reflective questions, you will immediately realize the effectiveness and power of this strategy. Questions such as the following promote deep and reflective thinking:
“What did you learn from this experience?”
“How can we correct this situation?”
“What would you do differently next time?”
“What can you do to accomplish that?”
“How can you do that without bothering your sister?”
When you implement these strategies, you will become more effective in your parenting, feel less stress, experience more joy, improve your relationships with your children, and have more time for a life of your own. Your children will become more self-disciplined and responsible. Please note, however, that this does not mean you can change their nature–no more than an acorn can grow into a palm tree. However, you certainly can influence your children to blossom into responsible and contributing members of society. Isn’t that what parents really want?
Dr. Marvin Marshall is an American educator, writer, and lecturer. He is known for his program on discipline and learning, his landmark book Discipline Without Stress® Punishments or Rewards – How Teachers and Parents Promote Responsibility & Learning, and his presentations about his multiple-award winning book Parenting Without Stress® – How to Raise Responsible Kids While Keeping a Life of Your Own. Visit http://www.MarvinMarshall.com for more information.