Why do athletes today slap each other even when they miss or mess up? It is one thing to be encouraging and supportive, but how can we distinguish praise for something good versus obligatory. Even in our children’s athletics participation alone is rewarded. Today everyone receives a trophy, regardless of skill or what place the team finished. I’m left wondering why we are so afraid to let our children experience failure.
This is just one example of an alarming trend in society: overcompensation by parents who want their children to have more opportunities and resources than they did as children or who are trying to make up for lost time, a lack of connection, or an abundance of guilt. We shower our kids with praise, attention, stimulation, and material possessions in an effort to differentiate ourselves from our parents’ strict, sometimes emotionally and financially sparse upbringing of us. However, we have inadvertently swung the pendulum from one extreme to the other by giving our children more than they need and sometimes more than they even want. We’ve become too emotionally invested in our children’s lives and this excessive care-taking prevents our children from experiencing the satisfaction of learning self-care skills. What happened to responsibility?
Every day in my practice, I see young adults who have not learned responsibility. They are emotionally immature and underdeveloped and feel entitled to special privileges. Some of them have alcohol and drug problems, fail at college, and are unable to support themselves financially. They rely exclusively on their parents to provide both financial and emotional support. Sadly, many parents assume this role, creating a codependent relationship. We are raising self-absorbed children who spend most of their energy justifying their actions to escape consequences rather than figuring out how they have contributed to their problems and learning from their mistakes.
Avoiding responsibility is rampant at all ages in our society. You don’t have to search very hard to find headlines in the newspaper about people who blame others for their mistakes. A classic illustration is the drunk driver who kills an innocent pedestrian and turns around and sues the bartender with no acknowledgment of his own wrongdoing. It is time for us to accept responsibility for our actions, hold our children accountable for their actions, and not reward inappropriate behaviors by eliminating consequences. It’s never too late for change. Children are highly adaptable. Try incorporating the following tips into your everyday life to restore balance in your family. Next week I will provide additional solutions to help with accountability, ownership, and managing stress.
Provide structure and consistency Children crave structure and routine even if they appear to resist. This provides stability and security.
Set a consistent mealtime and bedtime schedule.
Assign chores for each day and have a written grid that clearly shows your expectations.
Establish consequences for incomplete chores and rewards for completion.
Provide a reasonable allowance at the end of each month or week based on task completion, and dock their pay for an incomplete job.
Award age-appropriate responsibilities and privileges, such as preparing their breakfast/lunch, waking up to an alarm clock, and staying home alone.
Be consistent with rules and discipline even when it’s not convenient.
Praise specific behaviors to reinforce them.
Model self-worth, responsibility, and healthy relationships.
As you make changes in your family, remember to take time out for yourself. Children need to know that while they are very important, they are not the center of the family. Parents are the leaders and children are the followers and learners. As such, children need to see you nurture yourself by taking time away from them without guilt or promises to “make it up” to them.