One of our biggest parenting mistakes is to try to get kids to behave right for the wrong reasons.
It’s a good thing to want our kids to behave responsibly and to internalize the value of responsibility, but parents tend to turn this desire into a goal for a child’s behavior.
Here’s how it works: When kids fail to take responsibility the way parents want, these parents tend to engage. We nag. We remind. We may even yell, all with the goal of getting our kids to behave responsibly. The problem is, the most important goal of parenting is not to get our kids to behave right, but to believe right. And all this effort towards behavior communicates to our child the very opposite message we’d like them to believe.
When we nag kids until they clean up, we either directly or indirectly communicate the message, “You’re not responsible for this. Only when I nag enough will you clean up. You need me to nag in order to get things done.” The more we nag, the less our kids believe they are responsible, and the more they believe they are irresponsible.
So stop nagging.
What if, instead of nagging kids about their mess until they finally clean it, we simply said, “You are responsible to clean that mess up. What’s your plan?” Or perhaps we could calmly give a clear instruction: “Hey bud, you gotta clean up the dishes before you have the privilege of social time.” Ask your kids to repeat. Happily (not condescendingly) let them know the consequence if they don’t follow the instruction. Have them repeat that too. If they do what’s expected, affirm it and help them see the benefits of their responsibility for themselves and others. If they don’t, calmly follow through with the consequence.
With a new goal of communicating the message, “You are responsible,” parents are freed from the need to nag in order to get things done. Every parent we’ve seen effectively embrace this new goal has seen reduced stress between themselves and their children, and nearly all report that their children begin taking more responsibility.
Why not give it a try?