From Protection to Preparation

April 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

Whenever I speak to someone who has children in their teenage years, I consistently convey my admiration for their perseverance through that difficult parenting stage, and confess that those years intimidate me so much more than the younger years. People often ask me “how do you manage it with four?” and I tell them babies are easy once you have four, it’s the older years I have no idea what to do with! I can do diapers, nursing and baby food now with one hand tied behind my back, but teaching my kids about sex, why the internet can be dangerous, and why we’ve lied to them about Santa Claus, well, it’s a learning curve.

As my eldest now has broken the “double digit” threshold, I am developing a better understanding of how our parenting approach must evolve from protection, to preparation. In a recent blog post I recommended a book by Kay Wills Wyma called Cleaning House. It continues to open my eyes to new opportunities and realizations every time I pick it up. The years of having to be everything and do everything for my children are gradually transforming into teaching everything and modelling everything for my children – a much higher benchmark as it turns out…familiar with the old adage: “do as I say, not as I do”?

One terrific parenting technique I learned from a dear friend, that seems to be gaining some traction in our home, is the consequence of a “poor choice”. Every parent has been told that you aren’t supposed to call a kid “bad” when they screw up. It’s the behaviour that is bad, not the kid.  True enough, but at the same time, they need to take ownership for making that choice and quickly gain an understanding of why they shouldn’t do it again. Mostly for their own safety and development of good judgement, but also to save the sanity of their parents.

So using the “poor choice” tactic, when your child acts in a way that makes you want to say “WTF?!”, you quickly explain to them that they have made a “poor choice”. Always important to explain why it was a poor choice, although my kids can usually glean some of that information by the level of my voice and accompanying body language.  The technique then encourages you to provide a “job” as the consequence for making a poor choice. This is of course, steering away from the negative reinforcement of “punishment” (read: time outs, spanking, grounding, etc) and provides a more positive and constructive follow through.  I was in jaw-dropping amazement when my friend told me she had her young children folding all the laundry through the use of this technique.  

It took a few false starts (mostly on their mom’s consistency in execution, and creativity in deciding age-appropriate jobs), but we now have this machine well-oiled and expectations entrenched in our children that when they make a poor choice, they need to do a job. So results… you ask, has it successfully modified the frequency or intensity of the “poor choices”? Good question. I find that my curious and adventurous children find new areas every day in which fresh poor choices can be made, but as for the old ones, yeah, they don’t often repeat them.  More importantly, my kids now know how to fold laundry, put it away, unload/load the dishwasher, take out the compost, and set the table among other things. I have been pleasantly surprised at how much more enjoyable my daily routine is without these items in it!

This technique has worked well enough, in fact that I have extended the concept into privileges also, and that my fellow parents, is working like a charm!

Let me give you an example.  My kids love games, especially those of electronic origin. Being a BlackBerry family, we have no shortage of devices.  So we implemented an “earned screen time” approach:  “you wanna play, you gotta do a job first”.  One large job or two smaller jobs will earn them one hour of screen time.  If they want to play against each other, they each need to do a job.  This sweet little gem has worked so effectively that my boys now go and do the job(s) prior to even asking for the screen time. Let me tell you, there are few things sweeter than waking up to your children folding their laundry and making their beds without being asked.

I think Kay Wills Wyma would agree, using the “job” technique is an effective one. And maybe with a little grace, we might even begin to prepare these children for life, not just protect them from it. 

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