The example below will give you a better idea of what it means to respond to your child in an appropriate manner. As you read, think about these questions:
- Are the parents in the story reacting or responding?
- Is their response appropriate to the child’s age?
- Is their response appropriate to the situation?
- How might you respond to your child in the same situation?
Nancy, Akira, and Koji (Age 11) 4,6
What’s the Story?
Koji is an active, bright, 11-year-old boy. He plays soccer in the area league, likes computer games, and sleeps over at his friends’ houses. He also “hates” anything related to school, especially homework, and goes out of his way to avoid all things linked to school. His parents, Nancy and Akira, know that Koji is avoiding his homework and often punish him to try to change his attitude and behavior. The result is a daily battle.
We’ve tried everything. We tell him, “Do your homework or no TV.” Or, “Do your homework or you can’t go to your friend’s house.” We’ve sent him to his room, taken away his games, even sent him to tutors. Nothing works.
He just doesn’t understand the importance of good study habits. If he develops good study habits now, while he’s young, he’ll have an easier time in the older grades. I don’t know why he doesn’t see that. He doesn’t have any discipline.
What’s the Point?
Koji might not be able to see his parents’ point-of-view because they haven’t told him why they want him to do his homework. To them, the reasons are clear: they want Koji to build good study habits now so that he will do well in high school. Even more than that, they want to instill a sense of discipline in Koji, so that he learns how to start and finish things. For Nancy and Akira, these ideas don’t need to be explained.
For Koji, discipline and study habits are just words his parents use when they talk about school. But he probably doesn’t really know what these words mean. His parents need to explain these things in a way that makes them more concrete or real for Koji. Also, because he's only 11, Koji doesn’t think in terms of his future. He can’t see how the things he does now affect the things he’ll do when he’s 20. (In fact, he thinks 20 is old!) Koji can’t yet see himself in the future, beyond the idea that his body will get bigger. His parents need to help him to envision his possible future selves so that he recognizes the link between present action and future consequence.
Another thing Koji’s parents should think about is his “history” with school. Has Koji always disliked school or is this a recent change in his attitude? How are his grades now as compared to his grades in the past? How are his friends doing in school? Has there been a change in their attitudes as well? Koji could be slightly more advanced than some of his classmates; if that’s the case, he might be bored. Or the opposite may be true; Koji may be frustrated because he doesn’t understand what he’s trying to learn, so maybe he’s just giving up. If Koji’s friends are showing some of the same changes in behavior and attitude, maybe the friends are influencing each other into not liking school. Nancy and Akira should talk to Koji’s teachers and to his friends’ parents to try to figure out when his change in attitude started and what was happening around him at that time.
Nancy and Akira may also want to build family “homework time” into their nightly routine. By setting aside time for Koji to do homework, while one or both of his parents are in the room reading or doing some other type of work, Nancy and Akira can help Koji turn an idea like discipline into an action.
It’s much easier for children to know what you’re doing if they know why you’re doing it. Explaining your reasons for doing or not doing things gets across your values more effectively by showing those values in action. If you support your actions with reasons, you also give your child his or her best example of how to make an informed choice. This practice also brings more order into your child’s world, by showing a starting point (your value/reason) and an end point (your action/choice) for an event.