Who Owns the Problem

Who Owns the Problem?

I find it disturbing when I encounter a child in my class who forgets to bring in his/her homework or the important document that a parent needs to  sign for the school administration.  I find myself wondering how it is that the parent didn’t check the book bag or the child’s agenda, or ask the child what assignments were due. Then, I stop myself from this way of thinking because after all, the parent isn’t the guilty culprit, it’s the child.   I’m speaking of children beyond the elementary level.

If you as a parent have to remind, coax, nag, threaten and finally punish your child for irresponsibility, lack of organization and sloppiness,  the consequences should depend on who is affected by the child’s forgetting.  If children forget things which do not involve you, the parent, my take is non- interference.  Let the child learn his lesson and receive consequences, usually from the teacher. You’ll  be hearing from most teachers if this becomes a habit.  For example, the student  may forget to bring his book or money for lunch or a variety of items like writing materials.  I’ve seen kids call their parents and demand that they bring the lunch or the missing item, and often  the parent will show up and be extremely inconvenienced.    In this example, the consequences should occur in the school. Therefore, the problem should not be yours. And, how horrible would it be if your child missed a lunch if that disappointment improved his organizational skills? How terrible would it be if the child received a  low grade or Friday afternoon school to make the work up as a consequence for not being prepared .

Don Dinkmeyer author of ‘The Effective Parent,’ Circle Press states “If their forgetting gets in the way of your peace of mind, then you own the problem. Obviously, the consequences you design depend upon the situation. Find one that’s fitting.”

Also, as a rule Mr. Dinkmeyer states,  “parents shouldn’t interfere in the relationships between their child and other people.  Non-interference is made easier by recognizing who owns the problem and by allowing children to learn from their own decisions.

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A is For Accountability

Accountability is an issue I often face in my classrooms, and one on which I am relentless in trying to teach my students. I tell them that when you are accountable, you don’t blame the kid sitting next to you for throwing something across the room. You can’t control what others say and do but you certainly can control what you do.

Here’s a typical example that comes up regularly. “I didn’t do my homework because I had to do chores around the house, or I didn’t do my homewwork because the family had to visit my grandmother, and we didn’t get home till late.”

So, how do we teach kids accountability?

  • Teach them to be conscious and informed whenever they make a choice.
  • Try to determine if the choice is more likely to help them or someone else, or on the other side of the coin, hurt them.
  • Talk over the choice with people they trust and make sure to include at least one adult.
  • After making the choice, review what they did and what happened as a result. Have them self-reflect by asking, “Did my choice help someone or help me, and did it make a situation better?”

Kids can learn from their choices by remembering what they did and what the consequences were.

When making a poor choice, teach children to:

Admit it! Not an easy one for most kids, as they may be afraid of the consequences and prefer to take the easy way out. A suggestion might be to have your child write in a journal about the poor choice and describe the consequences. They might answer the question, what did you learn as a result of your choice, and would you do it again? Why or why not?

Teach your child to do what they can to make up for their poor choice. Model a poor choice you made and what you did about it.

Here are two suggestions of books for different age levels that teach kids accountability. “What do You Stand For? A Kid’s Guide to Building Character” by Barbara Lewis, Free Spirit Publishing, non-fiction

“Choosing Sides” by Irene Cooper, Morrow Junior Books for ages 10-13, fiction

“Trouble’s Child”, Mildred Pitts Walter, fiction ages 12 and up

Spiritual Bank Account

We attract to us what we emanate, and “like goes to like”, or “birds of a feather flock together”.  Also, the consequences of our actions come in unexpected ways and at unexpected times.

We help a blind person cross the street and a year later a helpful stranger aids us in putting on a new tire when we get a flat.

In a fascinating book entitled Power VS Force, the renowned lecturer and expert on mental processes, Dr. David Hawkins, M.D. tells us, “in reality, a shift in motive or behavior acts on a field that then produces an increased likelihood of responding in a positive way.”  In other words, our inner work builds up a spiritual bank account but one that we can’t draw from anytime we want.  The release of the funds is determined by a subtle energy field which awaits a trigger to deliver this power back into our lives.

In essence, his point is that it is important to make wise choices which will enhance our own existence and that of others – whether friends, family or strangers.  In this way, we are building our spiritual bank account although the withdrawal is not entirely in our hands.

Model Accountability

How often do you feel you are being punished more than your child when it comes to giving consequences?  Often, rude and disruptive behavior escalates after consequences are given and you might ask yourself if it was worth. In The Total Transformation Program, the originators of the program, Janet and James Lehman, leaders in the field of parenting children with oppositional and defiant behavior, underscore the importance of all children needing to learn to be accountable for their actions no matter what age.  I so agree with this idea because as a teacher I often have to deal with oppositionally defiant kids who blame everyone but themselves for their failures.

Some students refuse to listen, turning their hearing off, so to speak, and looking at you blankly as if you weren’t there.  This is a way to gain control, because they feel they are disempowered and this technique seems to work for them if you fall into that trap.  The Lehmans state that it is up to you (the parents) to create a climate of accountability in the home and in the community with your child.

It is my experience that some parents try to justify the inappropriate behavior of their child, and tend to blame it on the child’s friends or teachers as being a bad influence.  Based on working with scores of parents, I am of the opinion that some parents use ineffective strategies to teach their child, and when they don’t work, they look for someone else to blame for their failures.  I believe a number of parents “look the other way” when a child is behaving disgracefully, or is abusive and disrespectful to them or others.  There are times when parents may under-react to a child’s weaknesses by refusing to recognize them.  Modeling accountability by admitting when you are wrong, is certainly one way to teach your child this important lesson.

Are Traditional Ways of Raising Children Still Effective?

Last week I wrote about the importance of respect between parent / mentor and child.  To continue along on this theme, I would like to suggest that a child who seeks revenge, or whose goal is power, usually regards logical consequences as arbitrary.  What I mean by logical consequences, are consequences which permit choice such as:  You will finish your homework and take out the garbage in order to play your video games, or you can sit quietly and read a book and take the consequences for unfinished homework.  For a younger child, a logical consequence for acting up at the dinner table may be:  you can settle down at the table, or you may leave the table until you’re ready to join us.

Parents of defiant children need to concentrate on improving the relationship through respect and encouragement.  It may be necessary to put off a consequence on some conflict until the relationship is improved.

In a book entitled, The Parents Handbook by Don Dinkmeyer and Gary McKay, they talk about the fact that “today’s family structure is based increasingly on social equality.  And, traditional methods of raising children are no longer as effective as they were a generation ago.”

It was also suggested it is necessary to be both firm and kind.  Most parents are either firm or kind.  Few are “firm and kind” at the same time, and that’s a balance you should be aiming for.  Strictness deals with the child, while firmness deals with our own behavior and feelings. “Strictness is a term related to control of the child, and firmness is an attitude towards one’s decisions.”

The authors tell the reader to not “try to be a good parent”, and to refrain from overprotecting.  They suggest that the child experiences the consequences of his or her own decisions, and they also make a point of saying you should avoid taking responsibilities which are logically the child’s.

Finally, I would agree with the idea of becoming more consistent in your actions.  This really holds true in the classroom, and although I don’t think anyone can be totally consistent, through increasing your consistency, you let children know what to expect so they can make their decisions accordingly.

Manipulative Children

As a teacher for almost twenty years, I was often surprised and distressed to hear my students complaining about their other teachers — actually undermining them in front of me, as if I was a co-conspirator, and would be entirely sympathetic to their complaints. Statements such as, “he’s unfair” or “my teacher is stupid and I don’t have to listen to her” were common themes, particularly when a student was doing poorly in a class. I knew, of course, that my name would be bandied about to other teachers and that if they could be so transparent in their ridicule of my peers, I too would be blamed for something. So, in an effort to save myself and my peers from embarrassment, I decided to have a meeting so we were all “on the same page”, and could share suggestions on how to deal with the situation.
If kids can undermine their teachers so easily, they can also do this with their parents — playing one against the other.
I’m suggesting that when one parent is undermined by a child to another parent, or a child gets a response he doesn’t like from a parent and manipulates the other one for a response he prefers, it’s time for both parents to sit down and get on the same page. It’s also time to give instructions so the child understands you are talking to each other, and working together as a unit.
Make sure your child understands that manipulation (and this is understood at an early age because kids have a sense when their parents aren’t in sync), and running from one parent to the other won’t work. You then need to hold your child accountable for maintaining the level of performance (per age capacity) you expect. As an example, you explain what chores need to be done before going out, or how to speak respectfully to you. Tell them what the rules are, and what consequences will be enacted for breaking the rules. Make sure your child knows how they are supposed to behave, and always take action with consequences. Have them repeat the rules and consequences if need be.
”If you disagree on consequences or how to discipline the child, never discuss it in front of the child, because in doing this, you hurt each other. It’s the same way that a parent or teacher can’t undermine the teacher’s authority without undermining their own later.” EmpoweringParents.com.
The more a child undermines authority figures, the more he undermines your own authority.