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RESPONSIBILITY & DISCIPLINE As parents, we want our kids to behave responsibly, but what does “responsibility” really mean? At the very core of responsibility is the idea that what happens to us results from decisions we make. This can be a difficult concept for children to accept. It’s much easier for them (and, while we’re at it, for us) to blame problems on other people or circumstances, or to make excuses. But allowing this prevents our kids from learning to make better decisions in the future.

WHAT IS RESPONSIBILITY? Responsibility means: Accepting your obligations Knowing the difference between right and wrong (and choosing to do right) Accepting accountability for your actions

And their Role in Keeping Kids Smoke-Free

ACCEPTING OBLIGATIONS As parents, we understand that we often will need to sacrifice our immediate desires for the long-term benefit of our families and others. Doing something out of obligation can be a harder concept for kids to grasp. Helping our kids understand the need for self-sacrifice is part of teaching them responsibility. Once kids internalize the idea that they are responsible for their obligations, they have a solid foundation upon which to make future choices about keeping agreements, such as an agreement not to smoke. Sometimes obligations aren’t fun. We can calmly explain to our kids that meeting our obligations comes before our immediate pleasures. We can empathize with them when they have to pass up an invitation to go to a party because they have a prior commitment to perform in a chorus presentation. We can let them know that it takes courage to pass up some of the fun stuff in life, but that it will pay off in the long run.

KNOWING THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RIGHT AND WRONG (and choosing to do right) Helping our kids learn the difference between right and wrong, and then choosing to do the right thing as the situation calls for it, is part of our jobs as parents. As our kids earn the freedom to make decisions by themselves, they also take on the responsibility to determine what is right. This is not always easy. Most people would agree that it’s right to obey the law. Yet when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. broke the segregation laws of Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement, we recognized his actions as not only responsible but also moral and courageous. Over time, people came to discover that the laws were wrong, and Dr. King was right. How can you help your kids know what’s right? Taking time to talk with your kids about right and wrong in real-life situationssuch as the Dr. King example or what to say or do if someone offers your child a cigarette—is one way to start.


RESPONSIBILITY & DISCIPLINE ACCEPTING ACCOUNTABILITY FOR ACTIONS Accepting that what happens to you results from decisions you make is at the very core of responsibility. As with everyone, it’s much easier for kids to blame their problems on other people or circumstances, or just make excuses. But doing so prevents them from learning to make better decisions in the future.

For example, when Lisa’s grades drop because she’s talking too much in class and studying too little, she may blame her poor performance on “boring teachers.” This isn’t likely to help Lisa improve her grades, since she can’t control her teachers’ personalities. But what if she took responsibility and said to herself, “You know, there’s a lot of boring stuff in those classes, but I want to do well in school so I’d better study harder anyway. Maybe my parents will let me study with my friends if I promise to keep my grades up, and that will make it more fun.” When kids accept responsibility for what happens to them, they learn to prevent or solve their own problems.

Accepting that what happens to you results from decisions you make is at the very core of responsibility.


And their Role in Keeping Kids Smoke-Free

How can we help our kids develop responsibility? First, recognize that kids often avoid responsibility because of how they’re treated when they confess their mistakes. Often their reward for taking responsibility is blame, discouragement, and sometimes punishment. Most people learn even as children that if they can make a good excuse or blame it on someone else, they can avoid being hurt for their mistakes and misbehaviors. The first step in helping your child learn responsibility is to avoid hurting her when she makes a bad choice. Redirect her to make a better choice that will help her achieve her goal. Try not to discourage her further through put-downs, punishments, or other disrespectful actions. Redirecting to a better choice is especially important if your child should make a bad choice around smoking. To help your child take responsibility without hurting her, you’ll need discipline skills that are neither autocratic nor permissive. The active (authoritative) style of parenting is based on the concept of “freedom within limits.” This means allowing your child the freedom to make choices within limits that are appropriate for her age and level of responsibility. The better your child handles her freedom of choice, the more freedom you allow her in the future.

Kids can learn responsibility by thinking of it as a formula:





RESPONSIBILITY & DISCIPLINE ACTIVE DISCIPLINE SKILLS Discipline is from the Latin disciplina, meaning “to teach.” Punishment does not teach the intended lesson, but instead produces rebellion and retaliation. Likewise, rewards — although they may seem effective — lead to a “what’s in it for me” attitude that is counter to the qualities of responsibility and cooperation you are trying to teach. Discipline, on the other hand, influences kids to choose more positive behavior to reach their goals. It does not hurt or bribe. Your child should be an active participant in the discipline process, not a subject to be manipulated. There are three aspects to an active style of discipline. • Participation • Mutual tespect • Focusing on the problem

PARTICIPATION The more you can involve your child in finding solutions to problems, the more likely he will feel committed to honoring these solutions and the less likely he will feel the need to rebel.

MUTUAL RESPECT The days when parents could demand respect from their children but speak disrespectfully to them in return are over. Today’s parents must understand that if you want your child to treat you with respect, you must first be willing to treat him with respect. When you slip and treat him disrespectfully, catch yourself with a smile, apologize, and make amends. Example: “I’m sorry I yelled at you, Ben. That wasn’t very respectful. Let me try again more calmly to tell you why I was angry.”

And their Role in Keeping Kids Smoke-Free


Showing your child respect means not yelling, cursing, calling him names, being sarcastic, or otherwise speaking to him in ways you would not want him to speak to you. And it means not letting him speak to you disrespectfully either. But there are countless forms of more subtle respect and disrespect. For example, an overprotective parent who jumps in and solves a child’s problems before she has struggled to find a solution for herself is also being disrespectful.

FOCUSING ON THE PROBLEM Discipline can help solve problems and teach our kids responsibility. It can also escalate problems to another level. The third key to using discipline skills wisely is to keep your focus on the problem, not your child. If your child is talking to you disrespectfully, the problem is his behavior, not his personality.

It is much more respectful to say, “I don’t like you talking to me that way. It is disrespectful,” than it is to say,“You are so disrespectful.” The second response attacks your child’s personality and self-esteem, making most kids want to misbehave more in the future. Stick to the problem, invite your child to participate in finding a solution you both feel good about, treat your child with respect, and you will find the following discipline skills to be amazingly effective.


RESPONSIBILITY & DISCIPLINE BASIC DISCIPLINE METHODS The trio of communications techniques below increase in assertiveness from mild to firm. Only be as assertive as you need to be to create change in your child. When you want to change a behavior, start with the first and, if it doesn’t work, move on to the second and the third. They are:

POLITE REQUESTS Not every problem you have with your child requires firm discipline or a lot of discussion. Just asking politely may be enough to influence them to change a behavior. For example: “Bryan, would you please turn the music down a little bit? I’m trying to read.” “Would you pick up your room, please? Your Aunt Katie will be visiting later today.”

The “polite request” concept may seem so simple that it sounds ridiculous, but it makes more sense if you consider how impolite we can be at times as parents, especially when we’re annoyed, stressed, or just in a hurry. For example: “Bryan, turn the music down.” (No request, no “please,” no appreciation.) “Pick up your #$%* room, will ya?” (No comment.)

Sometimes the way we ask our kids for what we want is so disrespectful that it provokes an argument or some other negative response. It also unfortunately teaches our kids to be disrespectful to others. Keeping it polite with our kids is not only more respectful, it’s more effective.

And their Role in Keeping Kids Smoke-Free

When a polite request or suggestion doesn’t work the first time, offer a friendly reminder: “Bryan, please turn the music down.” “Aunt Katie will be here soon. Please go pick up your room.”

“I” MESSAGES If the problem behavior continues despite your polite requests, you’ll need a more assertive message. “I” messages are a firm and friendly communication that can produce surprisingly effective results with kids. They’re called “I” messages because they begin with the word “I.” An “I” message: • Allows you to say how you feel about your child’s behavior without blaming or labeling him or her. • Makes it more likely your child will hear what you’re saying because it’s said in a respectful manner. • Tells your child how their behavior is affecting you (your feelings). • Puts the emphasis on your child’s behavior rather than his or her personality. • Gives your child clear information about what change in behavior you want.

WHEN TO USE AN “I” MESSAGE An “I” message works best when you deliver it with a firm, calm tone of voice. If you’re angry, give yourself time to cool off before you approach your child. An angry “I” message can escalate the situation into a full-fledged power struggle.




Name the behavior or situation you want changed. Begin with, “I have a problem with…” or “When you…” This is where you separate the deed from the doer. Your child isn’t bad; instead, you have a problem with something he is doing. “I have a problem with you yelling at me.” Or “When you don’t take care of your toys…”


Say how you feel about the situation without raising your voice. Telling your child your feelings without yelling and screaming still lets her know that you consider the problem serious. What are common parental feelings when kids misbehave? Although parents often use the word, “angry” to describe their feelings, very often anger is only a mask for two other emotions: fear and hurt. Kids usually hear us better when we are expressing these emotions rather then anger because they are less threatening. This part of the “I” message begins with “I feel…” “I feel like you don’t respect me.”


State your reason. Nobody likes to be treated as if he or she were expected to be blindly obedient. Give your child a simple reason about how her behavior is interfering with the needs of the situation. “… because people don’t usually yell at people they respect.”


State what you want done. You have already made a polite request or two, so now you are getting more assertive. This means letting your child know exactly what you want done. Remember, you’ll get only what you ask for. This step can begin with, “I want,” “I would like,” or “I expect.” “I would like you to talk to me calmly even when you’re upset.”

And their Role in Keeping Kids Smoke-Free

Putting the four steps together, we have: “I have a problem with you yelling at me. I feel like you don’t respect me because people don’t usually yell at people they respect. I would like for you to talk to me calmly, even when you’re upset.”

MAKING “I” MESSAGES STRONGER You can make an “I” message even stronger by getting your child to agree to the behavior you want changed. Simply add the question, “Will you do that?” and then don’t move until you get a “yes.”


RESPONSIBILITY & DISCIPLINE FIRM DIRECTIONS Changing undesirable habits and behavior in our kids isn’t easy. If an “I” message doesn’t get the results you want, and the behavior continues, your next step is to give a short but firm direction to your child. For example, if you’re trying to influence your child to speak calmly instead of yelling, simply say, “Stop. Yelling. Now.” When you give firm directions, the fewer words you use the better. They make a big impact and they’re also easy for your child to remember. Make solid eye contact and speak firmly but calmly. Above all, avoid the temptation to lecture or explain yourself while your child stands there ignoring you. Remember, the less you talk, the more they hear. If your child complies with your request, build on this success by encouraging him with a simple, “Thanks. I appreciate it.”

BASIC DISCIPLINE PRACTICE Try writing a polite request, “I” message and firm direction for the following problem: Your child continues to leave toys strewn about the house and yard after you have politely asked him or her to keep them picked up.

And their Role in Keeping Kids Smoke-Free

STEP 1. Try a polite request. Please________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ STEP 2. Imagine that your child continues to leave toys everywhere. Try an “I” message. I have a problem with____________________________________ I feel_________________________________________________ because_______________________________________________ I would like (will you please)______________________________ STEP 3. What if your child picked up his or her toys for a short

time, but then started leaving them around the house again? Use a firm direction. ____________________________________ _____________________________________________________ Now write down a problem that you have had with one of your own kids. Write a polite request, an “I” message, and a firm direction you can use in this situation:

STEP 1. Try a polite request. Please_________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ STEP 2. “I” message I have a problem with____________________________________ I feel_________________________________________________ because_______________________________________________ I would like (will you please)______________________________ Evaluation How did your child respond to each method? What did you like about how you delivered the discipline? What might you do differently next time?


RESPONSIBILITY & DISCIPLINE NATURAL CONSEQUENCES Sometimes our kids won’t change their behaviors even when we’ve used polite requests, “I” messages and firm reminders. In these cases, we can turn to more advanced discipline methods. Remember that responsibility means accepting that what happens to you is a result of your choices.

RESPONSIBILITY = CHOICE + CONSEQUENCES To teach your child responsibility for her actions, you must give her the freedom to choose and to let her experience the consequences of those choices. Kids can learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t from the consequences of their actions. There are two basic types of consequences: natural and logical. Natural consequences are what happen naturally (that is, without parents interfering) after kids choose to do or not do something. Examples: • The natural consequence of staying up really late on a school night is being tired at school the next day. • The natural consequence of leaving a bicycle outside may be that it gets rusty or that it’s stolen. Natural consequences are powerful teachers. They work well for parents because they allow them to act as a sympathetic third party, rather then the disciplinarian. To allow natural consequences to be effective, avoid two temptations: 1. To rescue (for example, bringing the bike in from the yard when it rains) 2. To say, “I told you so.” It’s better to say, “Gee, honey, I know that’s frustrating.”

And their Role in Keeping Kids Smoke-Free

LOGICAL CONSEQUENCES In cases in which you cannot rely on natural consequences, you’ll need to set your own consequences to teach responsibility. We call these “logical” consequences because they are logically related to the misbehavior. Logical consequences are the results that a parent deliberately chooses to show a child what logically happens when he chooses to misbehave. Examples: • When Sean keeps forgetting to bring his dirty dishes into the kitchen after snacking in the den, he loses the privilege of taking food out of the kitchen. • If Susan doesn’t get her homework done each night, she’s not allowed to watch TV or play video games on the weekend. • When Ryan gets a note sent home for talking in class, then he has to write his teacher a letter of apology. • Either Madison shares her toys with her sister or the toys get put up and no one gets to play with them.


RESPONSIBILITY & DISCIPLINE LOGICAL CONSEQUENCES VERSUS PUNISHMENT Logical consequences aren’t the same thing as punishment, even though your child won’t like either. Here are the differences: LOGICAL CONSEQUENCES


Logically connected to the misbehavior

Is an arbitrary retaliation for misbehavior

Delivered in a firm and calm way

Often delivered with anger or resentment

Teaches responsible behavior

Is intended to teach obedience

Guidelines for Using Logical Consequences Many parents unintentionally turn a would-be logical consequence into a punishment, and then wonder why their child responds with anger, rebellion or a power struggle. A few basic guidelines will help you develop fair and effective logical consequences.


Ask your child to help decide the consequence.


Put the consequence in the form of an either/or or when/then choice.


Make sure the consequence is logically connected to the misbehavior.


Give choices you can live with.


Keep your tone firm and calm.

And their Role in Keeping Kids Smoke-Free


Give the choice one time, then enforce the consequence.


Expect testing (it may get worse before it gets better).


Allow your child to try again after experiencing the consequence.

CONCLUSION As parents, we want to protect our kids from all the dangers of the world. Of course, this isn’t possible. Instead, the best we can do is cultivate character traits in our children, such as personal responsibility, that will lead them to make good choices when confronted with dangers, such as being offered a cigarette. Especially as our children grow older, it’s up to us as parents to keep them on track by reminding them that responsibility is their key to earning more freedom. By providing respectful discipline, we can help our children learn from their mistakes and improve from experience. Note: Some of the materials in this booklet prepared by Dr. Michael Popkin have been copyrighted by Active Parenting Publishers and are used with permission of Active Parenting Publishers. Source: Teens In Action


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