Teaching kids self-government to improve family life
Teaching kids in a way where they learn to make positive decisions on their own will greatly improve family life at home. After the initial work of teaching your child, you will correct less, your child will follow rules more often, and it will increase a child’s confidence to act appropriately on their own. There are a few basic strategies you can use to teach self-government in your home.
Teaching social skills
Teaching your child specific steps of how to behave in many situations during a day is one of the best ways to help your child govern themselves. The skill of Preventive Teaching is used when teaching basic social skills such as following instructions, accepting a “no” answer, and calming down appropriately. Each of these skills can be applied multiple times during a day, inside and outside the home, and once your child is adept in the skill steps they will need little to no prompting from you to act appropriately. In addition to these skills are two more advanced skills that will improve self-government even more.
The SODAS method of decision making guides children through a process of labeling a problem, listing several options of how to respond, and then identifying the advantages and disadvantages of each option to help them come to the best decision. As your child learns the process they will get faster at using the skill and will be able to use it anywhere. Over time your child will increase their problem solving skills and depend less on you when making large decisions, especially in volatile situations when with friends. For more in depth information on how to teach Decision Making, visit the lesson page.
It’s unrealistic to think that our children won’t ever, and shouldn’t ever, disagree with us or our decisions. In fact it’s healthy that our children learn they can voice their opinion, so give them an opportunity to do so appropriately. Before teaching this skill, make sure that your child does know how to accept a “no” answer and applies it regularly. Then explain that they will be expected to accept a “no” answer before they can come back and approach you to disagree. One way to begin incorporating this skill in a formal way is during family meetings. Set aside time during each family meeting to role-play disagreeing appropriately and then give your child time to use the skill to explain something they would like changed in the house. When established this way the skill will be a positive tool for both you and your child.
Another strategy for teaching self-governance is by holding weekly or monthly family meetings. Family meetings can be used to review the social skills you are working on with your kids, discuss schedules, plan family and one-on-one activities, provide time for your child to express concerns, recognize the positive progress you’ve observed in your child, and establish reward systems. All of these areas aid in teaching children responsibility as they are given the opportunity to participate in these decisions. Family meetings are a great time to sit down and write a behavior contract or a way for a child to earn a privilege. And if a negative consequence needs to be addressed, then your child can participate in choosing an appropriate consequence. When I help families establish regular meetings in their home the teenagers always express the most satisfaction because they feel heard and like they are an important member of the family.
Praise is often talked about when discussing positive parenting, but it’s importance cannot be overstated. Praising a child, especially when including a child-centered rationale for how that positive behavior helps the child, increases intrinsic motivation. When a child’s confidence and self-esteem increases then they will want to make more positive decisions. We ultimately want children to make positive decisions because they recognize how it benefits them and how much better they feel for making better decisions. It is okay to occasionally reward when praising a child, especially when it is a new or especially difficult behavior, but praise even when there is no need for a reward. Also acknowledge improvements as they work towards self-government.
Build your relationship
Build a strong foundation with your child before beginning any behavior modification. When your relationship is strong with your child they will respect your boundaries and decisions more, and their behavior will improve. This is one area I incorporate with parents no matter what skills need to be taught. If you believe that you are doing all you can to teach your child and they still aren’t listening, stop and take time alone with them doing what they want to do. Then teach them all the skills and values to work towards self-government and step back and watch them use the skills on their own. If they have learned the tools then try not to step in for every decision, but allow them to turn to what you have taught. Allowing them room to apply, fail, and succeed will ultimately give them the confidence they need to act for themselves.