Thoughts on fostering growth through empathy
- a blog for parents -
If I asked your child what the rules are at home and what the consequences for breaking those rules might be, would they be able to tell me?
You're probably wondering why I would even ask? Over the years of working with children who struggle to manage their emotions and behaviours, I have learned, beyond a reasonable doubt that children who know the “rules” in their family know the “values” their family shares. When family rules are rooted in an understanding of the family's values, children are able to participate in processes of actively learning to manage their emotions and behaviours - not just because you "said so" or are upset with them, but because they understand the impact (to the best of their ability at their age and stage of development) of their behaviour on others within the family.
It's important for parents to take a few minutes (well, maybe more than just a few!) and establish your four most important values - and, yes, both parents need to agree in a two parent household - that you want to impart to your children. Once you have the most important values in mind, it's a lot easier to come up with rules - and why they are important enough to be rules - to share with the children at your next family meeting.
For example, if you value respect, then being respectful towards everyone can be the rule. This means that, even if angry, no one in your home hits, hurts or damages anyone or anything else - including people, pets, plants or property - because that violates the key value of respect. If you value truth, the rule is to be honest and not lie to one another.
Four key values to create four key rules with reasonable, agreed-upon consequences are all you need. Any more and no one will be able to really keep track or realistically follow up when the rules are broken. Beyond those four, there is lots of room to kids to be able to make mistakes and mis-steps and experience natural outcomes, instead of parents imposing "consequences".
Once parents have established agreement on four basic values and rules, share the rules with your children and invite them to create reasonable consequences for breaking those rules. Do this at your next family meeting. Ensure everyone gets to participate in the discussion, ask questions, and offer ideas. Post your rules (and their consequences) on the fridge so everyone knows what to expect.
If you try this, let me know how it goes!