"I just don't believe that kids learn to do what's right by us giving them hugs. The only reason I ever did my homework was the strap waiting if I brought home a bad report card." -- Jack
It's true. Kids need our hugs, but that's not what teaches them to do right. How
do kids learn?
Our modeling. When we take responsibility, when we apologize,
when we regulate our own emotions so we aren't yelling at them, children learn
to take responsibility, to apologize, to regulate their own emotions and treat
others with respect.
Our guidance. When we talk with them about the choices in their
lives, kids learn. Should he lie about his age to get a cheaper admission price
at the amusement park? Can she break a date with a friend when she gets a
more exciting offer? Should he help pay to replace his sister's toy that he broke?
Talk about the fact that ethical choices are worth making, even when it costs
you...And what ethical choice doesn't cost you?
Our family habits. When kids get used to "repair" rather
than punishment, they automatically look to make things better after a fight with
their sibling. When they learn that everyone has big feelings, but emotions aren't
an emergency, they learn to take responsibility for their emotions and their behavior.
Kids really do learn what they live. We teach them what's right every day, by
the example we set and the family culture we create.
But these examples are literally learning to do right. I suspect
that Jack is actually talking about choosing to do right.
What can parents do, every day, to help kids CHOOSE to do right?
1. Stay connected. When kids don't follow our lead and our
rules, it's often because they feel disconnected. Turn off your phone, forget about
your list, and spend fifteen minutes just being fully present and loving with your
child. Repeat daily. I predict that within a few days, your child will be "choosing"
to cooperate much more.
2. Set limits with empathy, which means you hold to your (reasonable)
expectations, while offering understanding that your child doesn't like the limit.
The limits teach kids what's right. The empathy makes the limits palatable so your
child is more likely to accept them.
3. Give support. If your child isn't meeting your expectations,
what support does she need? For instance, you want her to take her plate
to the kitchen. You know it takes thirty days to create a new habit. So every single
meal you connect warmly with her as you encourage, remind, and motivate her to
take her plate to the kitchen. (Notice that the connection has to be positive so
the child wants to create the habit?) Over time, you gradually help your child
create good habits that she "owns," for life.
4. Teach your child to "repair" relationships when he's done damage. Help
him with his upset and anger first, then he'll be open to repair. This is never
punishment; it's an empowering opportunity for him to make things better. Like
cleaning up any other mess, it makes us more careful about making the mess to begin
5. Help with emotions When kids know what's right but won't do
it, that's a red flag that they're in the grip of big emotions. The only way to
"get rid" of emotions is to feel them, but the good news is that once you empathize
with your child's upset and offer understanding, he'll "show" you those emotions
and they'll begin to evaporate. He learns that emotions aren't an emergency, which
helps him regulate them, so he can regulate his behavior--and make better choices.
More work? Yes. But that's how kids develop self-discipline. They choose, over
and over, to do the harder thing, because on some level there's a bigger pay-off.
Because we as the parent have helped them to experience how good it feels to choose to
Punishment, by contrast, only works when kids are small and can be forced. And
because they were forced instead of choosing, punishment doesn't actually build
the self-discipline muscles that would enable the child to choose to do what's
right--instead of what's easy.
Of course, kids still need those hugs. A hug is the shortest distance between
two people. Without that close relationship with you, why would your child even
WANT to do right?