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Food for Thought: Teaching kids responsibility and discipline

| February 3, 2021 12:00 AM

Whenever you discipline your child you want it to be a learning experience that shapes positive appropriate responsible behavior.

Don’t look at discipline as a win or lose situation. Discipline should provide the opportunity to make one’s own decisions and be responsible for one’s behavior.

Children of all ages need the security of boundaries and limitations on behavior. The most loving thing parents can do is to help children learn to control their own behavior, to exercise self discipline, and to say “no” to themselves.

Making choices commensurate with the child’s age (giving small choices to small children and big choices to big children) is the basis for self discipline and decision making, which in turn develops self responsibility and promotes self control.

The technique of choice making can work for children of all ages starting at two or three years of age through teens. The sooner you begin the better. For instance, your three year old wants to consume a bag of candy before bed.

To implement choice giving you simply say, “you may choose to eat one piece of candy or you may choose to put the bag back. “The choice is up to you.” If the child wants two pieces that is not part of the choice.

Another common example is children fighting in the back seat of the car.

Although you may feel like threatening your children or even hitting them, ask yourself “What will they learn if I take that course of action?” You would be teaching them you don’t have to control yourself. Dad or mom will. It is far better to pull over to the side of the road and say “When you choose to fight in the car, you choose to give up watching TV (or anything they value) for the day.

When you choose not to fight, you choose not to give up TV.” It is very important to use the word CHOOSE. If they are like most kids the fighting will probably start again in five minutes. Just say “I see you have chosen not to watch TV.” Even if they are quiet for the rest of the trip and want to turn on TV for that day, simply say, “At the very moment you chose to fight in the car - at that very moment - you chose not to watch TV”. You might have to enforce this a number of times but don’t give up. Consistency is very important. With choices goes self responsibility. It is not the same to say “If you don’t stop fighting, you can’t watch TV.”

Remember, they are learning to be responsible for controlling their own behavior instead of having you control it. They are also learning when they make a choice, right or wrong, they are committed to that choice and the consequences it brings.

Choice making and fostering responsibility even works with teenagers. An example would be using the car. “If you choose to have the car back at midnight, like we agreed, then you choose to get the car next weekend. If you choose not to have the car back by midnight, then you choose not to use the car next weekend”.

If they come home at 12:15 a.m., say "I see you have chosen not to have the car next weekend.”

Learning when you make a choice, you are committed to that choice, and must live with it is a very important lesson in life.

Suppose your child is now 15 or 16 years old and you are not around. At the moment you child decides to drink alcohol or take drugs or drives recklessly and ends up in an accident - at that very moment - s/he is committed to live with the consequences of that choice.

How can children ever learn to make choices if you don’t give them practice in making choices while they are still young?

Teaching choices teaches responsibility and promotes self discipline, so when you are not there, your child realizes at the very moment a choice is made there is a commitment to a course of action and that action bears consequences.

Dr. Leta A. Livoti Ph.D., LCSW, LCPC is a psychotherapist in Thompson Falls. She can be contacted at 827-0700.