Friday, October 15, 2010

Coming to the Rescue

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While channel surfing, I happened to catch CNN’s Education Consultant Steve Perry, who helps parents with discipline and school-related challenges.

Now that our children are back in school being slammed with activities and homework, the timing couldn’t have been better. Perry offered some really great advice. He was speaking to two well-meaning parents who were having trouble getting their 12- and two 14-year-olds to complete chores and do homework. Basically, they were having trouble getting their teenage children to take care of their business.

Taking care of their own business—completing homework, taking their medicine, cleaning their room—is a vital skill for teens to learn. If they don’t learn this lesson, then when they are responsible for themselves they have difficulty leading successful and productive lives.

Where these parents were at fault, according to Perry, was that they continually rescued their children. For example, their youngest child regularly missed the bus because he wouldn’t get up in time. On the mornings that he missed the bus, his father would leave work and take him. Basically, the child had no consequences for missing the bus and so he did it habitually. The 14-year-old male twin tended to forget to take his homework to school. No worries because there was Dad to come to the rescue. He would leave work, return home and then take his son his homework. No consequences and no lesson learned.

It’s hard to not rescue our children. I know. There are many times I am tempted to save the day. Though most of the time I fight this urge, there are occasions when I do help, which means my daughter forgoes consequences for her behavior. Just yesterday she failed to pack medication she needed to take for a spend-the-night outing. In this case I decided it was more important for her to take her medicine than to suffer the consequences of not taking her medicine. I made this choice realizing I would have other opportunities to make my point. You will have the same opportunities and so, yes, there will be times when rescuing needs to occur. There can be many reasons to rescue. Maybe your child has made great strides and you are now more interested in reinforcing the idea that we all make mistakes and it’s okay. Or maybe it’s been one “bad day” moment after the next and your child simply needs your support and help. On such a day flexibility is what’s called for.

But when a pattern is created that is detrimental to your child’s overall well being, then change needs to occur. Sometimes it takes the view of an outsider to help you see what changes are required. Don’t be afraid to seek help if you are concerned about your child and the direction he or she is headed.

The good news is that it is not too late to start. If you have a teenager who is already entrenched in bad habits—and in this case we are referring to things like homework, study habits—you can start now. Perry tells us children thrive in structure, and it is our job to establish a system that includes monitoring and follow-through. You may find it challenging to change the rules, but it can be done.

Perry also said that parents tend to give their children too many choices—or wide-open choices, which means they are more likely to make bad choices. He suggests giving choices, but narrow them down to two or three while making sure that the options you are offering are all good selections to make.

Allyn Evans
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