What I learned from parenting workshops #6 — Rules and consequences

woman in green shirt sitting on black metal railings

So here’s the thing about this parenting series.

When I started it, I really thought it’ll be a mini-series.

After all, I’m basing it on three webinars about parenting teens. So I figured three would also be the magic number for posts about it, right?

Strike #1.

As I was working through entry #5 previously, I thought I was doing my bit to put down for posterity and parents best practices to navigate the tricky business of parenting (*shoulder pat*). Armed with these tips and life hacks, parents reading will benefit immensely. From hereon the job of raising teens will be smooth-sailing.

Strike #2.

Truth is, towards the end of that post, I realised I had gradually moved away from the ‘raw and unfinished’ (the ongoing theme of my blog) into stuff that looks cookie-cutter perfect! Cos parenting should be perfect and predictable, right?

Strike #3.

Now what?!

young unshaven man looking at mirror in bathroom
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Now, I guess it’s just time to come clean and say this.

Inasmuch as I will still share what was taught in the workshops in this ongoing mini-series, readers please don’t take everything I say wholesale alright?

Cos I’m still learning that everything shared, though highly useful as a template of sorts, must necessarily be tweaked in order to suit each family’s unique situation.

Like the issue of family rules and consequences.

An ongoing line my family will hear me spout on and off is this idea that everyone can decide to do whatever they desire. However, life rarely lets us choose the consequences of those decisions. Kinda like running a red light on the road, hoping not to get run over!

It’s therefore important to ensure rules are in place within the home so there is as much predictability as possible with regards to outcomes of individual decisions.

And as a way to prepare our kids for the world outside.

A world of rules and consequences.

Good parenting means agreeing on family rules, not imposing

similar cubes with rules inscription on windowsill in building
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Now you might be forgiven for thinking parents must set the rules and the kids follow suit without a pip of protest.

However, this isn’t 1022 but 2022!

Instead, family rules today have to be formed and forged together between parent and child, especially when the child’s a teen. Show me now a teen who likes having rules imposed on him and I’ll show you a hopelessly delusional parent!

The better way forward is to always involve the teenager in designing family rules.

Of course, parents must initiate discussions on the rules and draft a preliminary list of them if necessary. That bit is still very much on us as the adult in the room.

Like when my wife and I first researched and subsequently drafted a mobile phone contract with our son J last November. Before presenting him with his first mobile phone (a hand-me-down old iPhone from his grandma).

Having done so, the next key thing is to ensure that our teen gets a say on what he agrees or doesn’t agree with for the rules. In short, there is room for his suggestions and comments in shaping that contract. And from there hopefully a greater sense of ownership. Should he have concerns, then those must be given their day in court and we as parents must hear him out.

More “Do’s”. Fewer “Don’ts”

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Family rules though, as the workshop facilitator pointed out, are often couched as a series of Do’s and Don’ts. And if we parents are honest, mostly the latter!

So wisdom suggests that we should tip the balance back towards the Do’s.

For example, rather than “Don’t leave your stuff lying around”, try “Clear your stuff please before going to bed.” Instead of “Don’t throw your bag on the sofa!”, say “Pick up your bag and place it in your room please.”

If possible, the key is to keep family rules to a minimum, and not fight tooth and nail to enforce every single one of them. Until the whole family scene looks like a civil war zone!

As the parenting gurus would advise, choose your battles.

While I don’t subscribe to military-speak (I still look back on my enforced time in the military in the late 80s with much loathing), I do appreciate the idea of picking my ‘fights’ with my sons. Especially on days I’m not at my best, and therefore likely to spark World War III with a careless word or order barked like some drill sergeant. Just because I want it my way.

Of course, rules are rules. And they are there for good reason most of the time.

So how do we well-meaning parents ‘enforce’ them?

Ask. Don’t declare!

cheerful young woman screaming into megaphone
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So here’s what the workshop guru recommends.

When we see a rule not being followed, we find a suitable moment to oh-so-matter-of-factly ask the teen what is the rule on such and such. Don’t declare the rule but draw it out of them instead. Hopefully, this will suffice to get them to do what was agreed.

And when drawing it out, get closer physically and use the teen’s name, speaking throughout in a calm manner like you are making a request. Then pause a few seconds to see his reaction. If he needs more time, allow him to negotiate for it.

And always remember to show visible approval and appreciation when the teen successfully executes the rule.

That’s something I’m still working on!

In parenting, stick with consequences not punishment

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It seems ridiculous in this day and age that parents still need to be reminded about the downside of parenting by punishment when it comes to raising kids.

Unfortunately, punishing infractions is still de rigueur in today’s fast-paced world of busy parents. Where dishing out swift justice makes us feel in control and ensures things move on in a clip clockwork-like fashion.

I’m certainly guilty of this on more than one occasion! Usually, it’s when I’m in a hurry or in a bad mood. I just want to mete out rapid punishment on my kids in order to get instant compliance.

But at what costs? And what signals am I sending?

According to the workshop guru, I’m…
1. …parenting from a place of frustration/anger/disappointment, rather than a place of principles
2. …using fear and suffering to obtain obedience, rather than teaching my child to make good decisions (and reap good results)
3. …saying my child is bad, rather than the behaviour is bad
4. …focusing on me the parent as the one responsible for managing my kid’s behaviour when that’s really his job
5. …fostering rebellion/revenge/dishonesty/disconnection, rather than encouraging good behaviour and keeping lines of communication open.
6. …conveying disgust/displeasure with harsh word choices, tone of voice, facial expression, and body language.

In short, children will respond better when they know where parents stand on an issue rather than be ordered around through nagging, scolding, lecturing or multiple reminders that potentially lead to punishing.

Hard to learn and grow as a teen from punishments rather than consequences!

To learn and grow. That’s the goal.

So for best parenting results, parents (including yours truly)?

Stick with clear rules and calm consequences.

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