Once children reach the tween (9-12 years old) and teen years, they should be able to developmentally understand the concept of cause and effect. For example, a child will think, “if I do something that I was told not to do, mom and dad will be upset with my choice and will take away privileges.” Children at this age also desire to make their own choices and are beginning to develop their own personalities.
For that reason, it is important to give your children the ability to make their own choices within a specific framework. If there’s an issue around doing chores or homework, for example, a good way to avoid a power struggle is to offer some options. Parents should say, “You can start your chores/homework when you get home from school or you can do these after dinner.” The key element is that they are not given the choice of not fulfilling their responsibilities, but instead given the choice of when they will do them. This teaches your child problem solving skills and with each increase in autonomy, there also should be an increase in responsibility and accountability. For instance, let’s say your child wants to stay up till 9:00 p.m. instead of 8:00 p.m. Parents and child decide that staying up an hour later isn’t going to interfere with your child’s need for sleep and that he’s old enough to handle the later bedtime. So both parties reach a compromise of 8:30 p.m. to see how that goes.
Most parents will think the case is closed at this point, but if you leave it there you probably haven’t done enough to teach problem solving. You need to make clear to your child how you expect increased responsibility with increased autonomy. The end of any conversation that centers on a change or an increase in power have to include these four questions:
1. How will we know it’s working?
We’ll know staying up later is working if you still get up on time in the morning for a consistent time period of one month.
2. How do we know it’s not working?
If you have a hard time getting up on time and don’t have energy during the day on a consistent basis.
3. What will we do if it’s not working?
We’ll go back to the old time, 8:00 p.m., for one month, and then renegotiate.
4. What will we do if it is working?
We’ll continue with this new bedtime.
Finally, if your child is unsuccessful in achieving the results they wanted and negotiated, don’t close the case and say it will never happen for them. Instead, come up with an agreed upon time when you will try the negotiated system once again. For example, if the 8:30 p.m. bedtime was not successful, say that you will try it again in another month or two. Be consistent and keep to your promises with your children when it comes to these agreements and you will develop children with integrity that respect your authority.
Tagline: Michael Linn, M.Ed., is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is the director of Safe Harbor Christian Counseling of South Central PA with office locations in Chambersburg, Gettysburg, and Carlisle. Please visit http://www.safeharbor1.com for more information or call 717-264-0614.