I know you’ve heard me talk (again and again) about how important it is to empower children and give them a sense that they have a say in their own lives (within reason). One topic I haven’t yet addressed is the fact that along with this responsibility, there has to be a sense of accountability.
In an excellent article about discipline by Dr. Sears, there is a discussion about how children are shaped by “when-then” scenarios. When we, as parents, repeat a consistent pattern, such as “when you go potty, you wash your hands,” the child will internalize this pattern and eventually follow these types of social norms without outside prompting.
Sounds simple, but it is not always easy to implement. Take last Saturday night for example. My husband invited a student new to the Ph.D. program to dinner at our house with a guest. My children had never met these two, and when they arrived, Puppy and Kitten acted like beasts straight out of Where the Wild Things Are. Not wanting to cause a scene in front of the guests, I allowed them to have a little fun, and then asked them to go downstairs if they wanted to act crazy, thus implementing the when/then philosophy (when you want to be wild and guests are over, then you go downstairs). Although this worked to a certain degree, Puppy and Kitten did not choose to use what I would consider acceptable manners at the dinner table later in the evening.
Tucking them into bed that night, I told Puppy I was disappointed in her behavior. She replied:
“Sorry, Mom. If you had said to act my age, I would have stopped acting crazy.”
But I wasn’t about to let Puppy off the hook for her behavior. I replied:
“Oh no, you don’t get to blame tonight on me. You need to take responsibility for your own actions.”
She responded, “Oh, I take responsibility all right, I’m just saying if you had used the right words, I would have known to calm down.”
Obviously there was a real disconnect between Puppy’s behavior, and a feeling of responsibility for her actions. By talking to her about my expectations, and how her behavior might have made our guests feel, I can only hope that I am instilling an innate sense of accountability that will help her make better decisions the next time around. We’ll see!