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Several posts floating around on social media propose what kids need these days. They typically lament the fact that society allows a lack of self-discipline and respect, then say we should give kids boundaries, expectations, rules, limits, rewards, and consequences. And, that with these things in place, kids will rise to challenges and exceed our expectations every time.
I generally agree with this but feel the need for clarification because these posts might leave readers thinking of this as a kid problem. I think it’s an adult problem.
Under the topic of “Society,” I would add that kids need many examples of adults doing good work and serving their communities in all fields. Young people need the chance to do tasks appropriate for their age that contribute to their home, school, and community. Also, under “society,” they need to see adults treating others with kindness, especially teachers and community leaders.
I had one burned-out teacher when I was a kid. I didn’t enjoy being in her class, but the experience made me a better educator later on. I never knew of my mother’s negative conversations with that teacher until I was an adult because she didn’t want me to become belligerent and disrespectful toward the teacher. My mother was wise.
Now for “Boundaries.” Boundaries are good, especially if they’re reasonable and appropriate to the child’s age. If boundaries constantly shift because of parents’ emotions, kids are confused. If adults repeatedly violate boundaries appropriate for adults without consequences or apologies, that’s confusing too.
“Expectations” – Yes to expectations, along with the coaching and the gradual building of skills to reach them. I had music teachers, one coach, and one English teacher who were standouts in high expectations. If we underperformed, these teachers felt partly responsible and coached us some more until we got there.
We don’t always exceed expectations. Sometimes we lose the game or play a musical passage incorrectly. Part of striving toward high expectations is learning that we fail sometimes then get up and try again.
“Rules and Limits” Yes, along with rationale for the rules and limits. Rules need to be simple and few in number for kids (or this adult for that matter). Some rules have to be “don’t do this” type rules. The more “do this” rules, the better. Procedures can be more helpful than rules. How do I borrow the car? How do I apologize? How do I speak to others? How do I put something on our family calendar? How do I save my money to buy something? How do I get in touch with my parent during school or work? When do I do my homework, play, and practice?
“Rewards and Consequences” The best rewards cost nothing and are immediate and memorable. Telling a kid that his answer to a question was clear and showed some careful thinking will be remembered. Telling a kid her answer earned an “A” is alright but won’t be remembered.
Consequences should be as natural as possible. Contrived penalties for an infraction build resentment, and the penalties tend to be more dependent on the adult’s mood than the actual violation. My English teacher conferenced with me about something I wrote quickly and without much thought. At the end of the short visit, she told me to rewrite it and that the final grade would be on my final product. That was a reasonable and natural consequence, and it was a consequence that taught me to do better. Just giving me a “C” or “D” would have been easier but meaningless.
As I’m writing this, I feel convicted for my deficiencies in parenting. It’s a wonder our kids turn out as good as they do! When our first daughter was born, my mother gave me a small frame with eight silver dollars to remind me of a mistake she made in teaching me about money when I was a kid. The caption read, “No one said parents are perfect.” My mother was wise.