Growing Capable Responsible Adults

Annette Nay, Ph.D.

Copyright 1999

We all dream of a better life with our children, but whether we like it or not we get to learn some pretty completed and tough lessons about child rearing, relationships with others, and controlling our wants and needs to coming to the rescue, even when we want to so bad that hurts. Why is this? We love our children. We have been socialized into being nurturing, loving and helpful. It is our nature to do so.

Learning to resist "making it all better," must be learned. We have to let our children (pint-sized to adult) experience what will happen if they continue their harmful negative behavior unless it is life threatening. If we do not, they will not become the capable responsible people they need to be. (Life threatening in this context does not mean that we should stop the murderer from capital punishment. )

I have promised myself that I will be the best that I can be, not matter what it takes to get there. I think you want the same for yourself and for your child, but the only person you can change is yourself! A child's behavior is directly related to the mother's behavior. That is, wherever your sphere of influence touches your child's, you have influence to change that behavior by changing what you do! For instance, your child is dependent on your bailing him/her out. What if you didn't??? S/He would probably become so angry, perhaps verbally abusive, say s/he doesn't love you or that you don't love him/her, say s/he never wants to have anything to do with you again. S/He could even kill you, but in the end you changed, now s/he has to change. S/He has to find someone else to support him or her, or stand on his or her own two feet. Hopefully s/he will pick the latter of the two.

If you are being emotionally or physically abused by your child, no matter his age, how does it feel? Wouldn't it be better to drawing a line at what you will and will not tolerate. Explain it to the child and then let them choose if they will abide with the house rules. If they choose not to abide by them, then they choose to leave. Either you are in charge or s/he is. What will it be? Wouldn't there be more peace in throwing him/her completely out of the nest and making him/her responsible ?

Once children cease being a team player it is time for them to go off somewhere else to make their own rules. It they are old enough to formulate their own rules of conduct contrary to those of the family, they are old enough seek shelter elsewhere. If you don't think so, then you make suitable arrangements, whether it a relative, neighbor, Juvenile Authorities, or the Army. It needs to be someone who will to take them on, give them responsibilities, and make the rules and responsibilities stick.

This may seem harsh but you cannot deal with a war zone in your family. When one breaks ranks, the others will follow and then you have lost them all. It is better to remove the one bad apple than to lose the whole barrel.

Get tough! Setting relational boundaries (how you choose to relate or behave with others) is never easy and it almost always hurts both the boundary setter, emotionally, and the person/s that hit against the new wall that was not there before.

Boundaries protect us. They bring us personal power, personal growth, self esteem for ourselves and the esteem from others. How do you think your child esteems you at this time? If s/he doesn't, you deserve better! Demand it by your actions. It is so much healthier for you and your child. How bad does things have to get before you cannot take any more? Draw the line of what you will do and will not do for this child and stick to it. Never go back on a drawn boundary or others will not believe any of your proclaimed boundaries and they will run right over the top of you! Give some thought as to that which you are willing and must defend as your personal boundaries. Then do it!

The Lord has shown us, by example how to deal with our children. Some people call it "Tough Love." It is letting things happen to the child as a natural consequence of his/her choices, unless it is life threatening. In this case, other consequences can be put in its place. There needs to always be a consequence for our actions.

If we make wrong choices does the Lord save us from the consequences? No! We take our lumps, but He continues to love us unconditionally, no matter what we have done. He never condones the wrong that we have done, but helps guide us back to where we should be if we will let Him.

We can lovingly guide our children and help them back to where they should be. This is done by letting them discover for themselves what they should do. Set firm rules and consequences that will happen when those rules are broken.

Reviewing with your child their options and the consequences of those options. By questioning them about their future steps, they discover for themselves, the effect their actions will bring. This discovery becomes theirs. They earned it. It is far more valuable than if you had dumped it on them. Besides when do teens or adult-sized children ever listen to their parents? By helping them think things through with guiding questions, they not only discover the right path, either directly or by elimination over time, but they become individuals who acts like adults should. You can never do that for them. They must discover it for themselves.

Many individuals find themselves in a place that they do not want to be and would have never willingly chosen because they did not take time to think it through. Thinking it through it a powerful tool that should be modeled out loud, so our children can see how we arrived at our wanted destination. It should be made clear that it was not by accident, but a result of mental planning and then putting those plans into action.

When we deal with our children in daily life, we should focus on what our behavior will bring out in our children, in the long run. Are we really loving them by letting them get away with things? NO! The nasty behaviors that they do now, will only get worse with practice and will have to be unlearned before God will let them back into His kingdom. He will not tolerate lousy behavior.

A behavior continues because it is positively reinforced. For a behavior to be extinguished it will undergo be accelerated attempts to revive its usefulness. After all it worked before, it should work again. Good tools are hard to find. None of us like to loose them. So we try all the harder to make it work, because we expect it to.

After we have expended all our efforts into making it work and it doesn't, we throw it away for a time, but periodically resurrected it, in hopes that it will work for us again. For example: A man puts money in a food machine. He pulls the knob, but no food appears. This action has always worked in the past and must work now. So he pulls the knob again. Nothing. He pulls return change lever. Nothing happens! He pulls on the food knob again. Nothing. Now he pulls several of the food knobs in hopes that something will come out. Nothing! Now he hits the machine. Nothing happens. He hits and kicks the machine Nothing happens. He would probably take bludgeon the thing to pieces if it were socially unacceptable, but it isn't. When he meets the eyes of horrified passersby he stops his accelerated behavior and leaves. The behavior has been extinguished for a time.

When an individual is positively reinforced for a behavior intermittently he will continue the behavior forever. Beware of what you are doing when you periodically allow you child to get away with unacceptable behavior. You will be reinforcing this behavior forever.

One of the main things that we are here to learn is to be consistent. We cannot make a rule and its consequence (punishment for noncompliance), without being willing to administer the consequence consistently, as needed. We must do it even when every fiber of our body says we cannot take another step today, or it is the child's birthday, or whatever excuse we can conger so we will not have to administer the consequence. Above all else, be consistent, starting today!!!

Successful families have a method of reviewing rules and their consequences. Rules are in this way revised so that they grow with the child and still remain relevant and helpful in growing a capable responsible person. A child should be able to challenge the validity of a rule if s/he feels it is not pertinent anymore. Facts are gathered by the parents and a closed-door session, attended by both parents, is held to decided the fate of the rule and or its consequence. The rule/consequence may be changed or a new one made as needed.

Never make rules without consequences. Never make rules that are not agreed on by both parents. Agreement means that both parents will uphold the rule and its consequence. The rule and consequence should be presented to the child as a result of your joint decision. This creates a strong parental front. This way Billy cannot go to mother and say that dad said the rule is null and void this time. You know that is untrue because it takes the two of you to make changes. This way the child cannot parent shop to get what he wants and he doesn't get away with anything.

When parents make rules and selectively apply them because the other is not home, it undermines both parent's authority. When the children see that you do not support the rules nor your spouse, then they see that they can follow suit and not obey you either.

More than one household has had children run over the parents, usurping power and control of the household through lies, verbal and mental abuse, and ultimately, physical violence and terror. You cannot afford the luxury of picking and choosing which rules you like to enforce. If you do not like a rule, get yourself into closed-door session with your spouse and get it changed. Present the new rule and its attached consequence jointly to the family.

Try to make the consequence for not obeying a rule, fit the crime. For example If the garbage is to be taking out, then the child is not at able to participate in other activities with friends until the job is done. In this way you can say, I'm sorry that you have chosen this behavior, because you cannot leave until the job is done. There is not fussing, yelling on your part, or wondering what you will do. It has all been decided beforehand. It happens like clock work. You do this, then this happens. It works!

I hope this information will help you or others in some way. I just wish that I had this information when my children were young. It would have elevated a lot of problems the we have to deal with today. But, these rules still work on children that have reached adulthood, so use them continually!

Good luck with your children's and remember to:

  1. Always have your love available for your child.
  2. Be available to help him/her see his/her options by using prudent thought-provoking questions to help him/her see the consequences.
  3. Be unified in making and keeping rules and administering the consequences. Be consistent!
  4. Prayerfully make your boundaries, rules and consequences, stand by them, and watch your child's behaviors change for the better, because you have changed for the better.

God bless you in your endeavors!

Annette Nay, Ph.D.

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