Teaching responsibility

When my son was three, he had a small snow globe with Pluto the dog in it. Every time he’d play with it, I would say, “Be careful, it is glass so if it falls it will break.” One night, he played with it intensely, not heeding my warning, he dropped it and it shattered. My initial reaction was one of exasperation and panic as I quickly removed him from the area. I fought back the impulse to snap, “I told you so… you didn’t listen” but I know he still felt that negative energy as he felt horrible, broke down in tears and was inconsolable. My husband and I both hugged him, and I stated, “It is my fault because I should have taken it away from you. I knew better.” I calmly as possible suggested he go play with his miniature sandbox and he agreed that would make him feel better. DISNEY CRYSTAL SNOW GLOBE PLUTO-FIRST EDITION CRYSTAL COLLECTION VINTAGE

I think many would be taken back that I took responsibility in this situation (and I do this in most parenting situations). I frequently get comments about how will he learn responsibility? How will he learn if there are no consequences? I was first exposed to this response in a training for regulatory parenting.The presenter, Juli Alvarado, gave numerous examples of “taking responsibility” topping with a story about her standing before a judge for a foster child and stating that she will take responsibility for his actions. These stories surprised me because they were counterintuitive to what I was raised to think, but her reasoning, and better yet the progress, sold me.

So I will apply the reasoning to the situation with my son. First off, there were consequences. They were natural and inherent in that specific situation like sadness and grief for a broken cherished item which we never replaced; instant feelings of guilt for knowing he broke the snow globe; added negative feelings from disappointing his mother; time away from his mother whilst cleaning up. Also, I did not take responsibility for him, I took responsibility for my behaviors. To be honest, I have problems setting limits and being firm as well as lacked the tolerance to deal with my son’s negative reaction if I did take the snow globe away. It was not appropriate for me to expect a three-year-old to truly conceptualize the risk and control himself. Ideally, it is the parent who is the one with more knowledge, more experience, more skills, more resources and is responsible for meeting the needs of a child.

By me taking responsibility, I decreased the negative energy (i.e. blame, disappointment, shame) being absorbed by my son as well as calmed myself down. All negative behavior comes from a state of stress (see Stress Model by Dr. Bryan Post ). When we are stressed, we usually react negatively and inappropriately. Scolding, raising my voice, or punishing would only add more stress, which a child (and most humans) can’t handle as well as escalate the situation. It also causes the child to focus on and retain negative feelings about the parent as well as lessen their ability to internalize the actual event and subsequent lesson. When we are calm, we are able to respond gently by becoming aware of as many variables as possible and collaboratively problem solve effectively. I was also role-modeling for my son how to take responsibility.

Teaching Responsibility = Role-Modeling the Ability to identify your role in the negative dynamic & Respond appropriately to get needs met

I believe we all deserve respect and compassion so “appropriately” to me means with respect, compassion, and guidance based on context, skill level, and temperament. There are complaints that there is not enough discipline and kids have no respect anymore. I agree in part as many are behaving how they are treated. I believe discipline means to teach and to control oneself, and that everyone deserves respect, especially children, and our society is extremely disrespectful to children. I think we need more positive, respectful, and responsible role models.

I can’t tell you how many times I hear a parent or adult snap “Don’t you raise your voice to me!” in their elevated and harsh tone, and the countless other times that parents lose control of themselves. Another common parenting contradiction is “Don’t hit her sister/brother!” then threat…”I’ll spank you if…” and then the child witnesses or experiences domestic violence. I once heard Dr. Bruce Perry comment, “If you speak English, you learn English; if you speak rudeness, violence, anger, then you learn rudeness, violence, anger…”How is one able to learn respect and empathy when they are rarely given any? Or only given when certain conditions are met depending on someone else’s mood or power?

I really wish adults would become aware of their power, their feelings, and mood as well as notice all the things they complain about or demand of their child (and partners). Then, I want parents to really reflect on how many times they have committed a similar offense of overreacting with heightened negativity. I continue to do this experiment and I have yet to find a time I have NOT behaved or reacted in a similar, negative way. I then choose to hold my complaint until I have successfully worked on changing my own behavior.  By then, I have gained enough insight and empathy for the person that the original complaint seems hypocritical, unreasonable, and even petty in some cases. A child will learn more positive skills and values from a vulnerable and calm adult who reflects on and changes their own behavior than a defensive and angry person who threatens consequences and dismisses their child’s needs and feelings. I know threats and punishments seem to work, but they work for the wrong reasons and promote more destruction than you can imagine, at so many levels.

So back to my son and the broken snow globe…after about 15 minutes, my son called to me. He said he felt better and asked if I would help put his sandbox away to keep it safe. I did and we went to his room for story time. He immediately went to the spot where he broke the globe and calmly said, “I am sorry Mommy for breaking it.” I accepted his sincere apology and we got back to our bedtime ritual. Reflecting on this event, I wish my response had no shaming tone to it, though I know realistically how difficult it is to have a neutral tone and there is inherent value to have my son experience processing negative reactions from others, especially with people he loves so deeply. Since this event, I learned the benefits of avoiding saying “Be Careful” and to make more specific, related statements. Click here to learn more about what to say instead of “Be Careful”

Parenting is a journey; a portal to growth, healing, and connection which is best learned through trial and error. You have no power to change or improve anything if you are not aware of your own role in the dynamics. Fortunately, neuroscience is proving that the brain develops optimally and cultivates positive connections when we are supported by at least one calm, nurturing, and safe caregiver and there are so many fun, respectful, and mutually satisfying ways to achieve this. My son is now 13 years old and he amazes me daily with his integrity, empathy, and responsiveness. He consistently role-models responsibility to his younger sister and his peers, he genuinely apologizes and changes his behaviors on his own as well as holds others accountable for their negative reactions. He is the most responsible and compassionate teen I have ever known, and yes, I am biased 🙂

Here are a few of my favorite articles on discipline and natural consequences:

The Word DISCIPLINE Means “to Teach or Train”

What If Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids Was Wrong?

https://www.positivediscipline.com/articles/natural-consequences

What is meant by “Parenting Beyond Consequences” by Heather T Forbes

Take wonderful care of yourself and family,

Debra

You can learn more about me and my services here at WeCounsel

Disclaimer

Positive Reframe shares resources with the intent of the positive progression of informed decision making related to issues associated with emotional, relational, physical and spiritual wellness. While I share personal and professional perspectives, my writings reflect my personal opinion and not intended to substitute professional advice, diagnosis, and treatment. The online medium does not lend itself to the level of detail and rapport building required for thorough assessment and therapeutic intervention. Thus the content shared on this page is for informational purposes only. To make well-informed decisions that best meet your family’s unique needs, I highly recommend exploring and researching available options, consulting primary health care providers, engaging in respectful dialogue with friends and family as well as seek referrals from a trusted source for professional counseling. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy in the state Illinois, USA

Healing Song

I have inherited some devastating negative core beliefs that get triggered easily like when anything goes wrong, I instantly feel that It’s all my fault. When I break something or make a mess, I feel I am a complete failure and utterly stupid. Sadly, I have unconsciously passed this same negative tape onto my son. It has grown more apparent the more I expand my awareness for it. Even though I know they are not true, they still feel very real to my body, mind, and soul and as much I tell myself and my son they are not true, we need to heal and rewrite in the moments we feel them the most.

As we were getting ready to leave the house one day, he boisterously bounced into the wall and a picture frame crashed to the floor. As I am aware that things breaking are one of my triggers, my body viscerally reacted negatively. Almost simultaneously, my son hung his head down saying  ”I’m so stupid.” As soon as possible, I told myself out loud to “let it go” and move onto to next step. Unexpectedly, he went back to the frame to try to fix it and I reacted negatively again as I was afraid he’d get hurt from glass and we were under a time crunch.

His head hung in shame again, he stammered toward the door, muttering “It’s all my fault.”

The next feelings and thoughts poured through me in a matter of milliseconds….At first I was filled with anger and disappointment of how could he feel so bad about himself; how I don’t have the time to deal with this now; how many times do we have to go through this…then feelings of guilt and shame came of  how could I have let this self-hatred seep into my son’s self-consciousness and how come I cannot heal us both and get over it…

I caught the negative tape going wild in my mind and chose to give myself and my son the same love and compassion I wish to give everyone.

As my son turned the door handle to escape outside, I told myself I must not let him start his day this way. I ran to him as boisterously as he bounced into the wall just moments before, pulled his head up and bellowed “Raise your head.” As this was happening so quickly, I could still feel the tension in my hands.  His look instantly told me to get my body, tone, and words to match the message of love I wanted to give. I hugged him and began singing,

I love you no matter what glass breaks.

I kissed him in tune to my melody on his cheek and I looked at his eyes as they began to well up. I continued to sing:

I love you no matter what breaks.

again I repeatedly kissed him on his cheek and as I saw tears beginning to fall, I sang:

You could knock the house down and all I would care is that you were safe and sound.

followed with more kisses, he tearfully said,

“That is the kindest thing I have ever heard.”

I responded that every word of it was true and we hugged. His younger sister who was watching the whole thing then joyfully pleaded, “I want kisses on the cheek too.” We went on to have a great day and I believe some of those negative messages have healed.

Letting Go…

“To Let Go doesn’t mean to stop caring; it means I can’t do it for someone else.

To Let Go is not to cut myself off; it’s the realization that I can’t control another.

To Let Go is not to enable, but to allow learning from natural consequences.

To Let Go is to admit powerlessness, which means the outcome is not in my hands.

To Let Go is not to try to change or blame others, I can only change myself.

To Let Go is not to care for, but to care about.

To Let Go is not to fix, but to be supportive.

To Let Go is not to judge, but to allow another to be a human being.

To Let Go is to not be in the middle arranging outcomes, but to allow others to effect their own outcomes.

To Let Go is not to be protective, it is to permit another to face reality.

To Let Go is not to deny, but to accept.

To let Go is not to nag, scold or argue, but to search out my own shortcomings and correct them.

To Let Go is not to adjust everything to my desires, but to take each day as it comes and to cherish the moment.

To Let Go is not to criticize and regulate another, but to try to become what I dream I can be.

To Let Go is not to regret the past, but to grow and live for the future.

To Let Go is to fear less and LOVE more…”

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