As much as we wish our kids would behave responsibly because “we say so,” they might need external motivation to make better decisions in life. Often, as parents, we can find ourselves in power struggles with kids. We want them to do one thing, yet they behave another way. Unfortunately, power struggles can lead to screaming matches or our kids learning to obey us rather than developing skills to meet their own needs. We want to teach our kids that responsible behavior leads to more freedom.
The Connection Between Freedom and Responsibility
Kids might not understand the connection between having more freedoms when they display responsible behaviors. However, when we take on responsibilities, we gain privileges. For example, when we work to pay off a car loan, we get access to transportation. When we clean our homes, we get to relax in a comfortable environment. Kids will always want to take the shortcut to access their needs. By having leverage in the situation, we can help them understand that long-term goals lead to gaining the things they desire.
Keep It Simple
Most often, leverage does not need to be something that we are going out of our way to obtain. Many things that we can use as leverage are within our control. Some examples are:
- Access to a vehicle
- Cell phones
- Internet usage
We can always find ways to reward our kids with access to these items. For example, we might provide cell phones to kids who demonstrate that phones are not distracting them from studying. If we pay for our kid’s cell phone and their grades begin to slip, we can use the phone as leverage. We can leverage this in many different ways based on how much access we allow to the desired item. With a cell phone, we can agree to a few different options and create benchmarks along the way for demonstrations of responsible behaviors.
Our phrasing is critical when using leverage. We should explain things from our point-of-view regarding what we are and are not willing to provide:
“I’m willing to provide _______________ if you can show responsibility in ____________.”
Consider the following example of using a cell phone as leverage to help a child study:
- “I’m willing to provide $20 toward a monthly cell phone bill for someone who can complete all their schoolwork on time.”
- We can use intervals to reinforce positive behaviors along the way. Start small and work up toward what we are most willing to offer. (Never agree to something you aren’t willing to do! Remember that you have control in this situation!)
- Continuing the cell phone example, the use of intervals can look like this:
- We can start with access to a phone with only a limited number of features, such as minutes, data, and texting capabilities.
- If a particular condition is met with the phone, we will add more data, minutes, and texting.
- “I’m willing to increase the amount of data by 5% each month for someone who can maintain a steady grade point average throughout the year.”
- “I will pay an extra $5 per month toward a cell phone per letter grade increase from month to month.”
- “I’m willing to buy a new phone if you make the honor roll each period throughout the school year.”
Similarly, access to other privileges can follow intervals and a fixed schedule. We might allow for an increase in curfew or greater access to our car when a child demonstrates responsible behaviors.
Create a Contract for Responsible Behavior
Drafting contracts for responsible behaviors can allow kids to bring their ideas to the table. We can find ways to compromise and get their “buy-in” when we discuss these things. When kids want access to something desirable that is in our control as parents, then we have leverage. When negotiating a contract with kids, remember the following:
- Do not offer more than you are willing to provide!
- Treat this process like any negotiation–offer your child less than your maximum and let them counter with greater offers.
- Seek compromises wherever possible.
- The item or privilege needs to be important to the child. Otherwise, they will have no motivation to make any changes.
- Write everything down! If things are not written out and agreed to, kids might attempt to manipulate the situation, saying, “That’s not what you said before!”
The use of leverage can help kids learn responsible behaviors, negotiating skills, and the value of consistency as they work toward long-term goals. Incremental increases can teach our kids that short-term goals can pay off as they continue making good choices and behaving responsibly.
As parents, we can use leverage to teach our kids responsible behavior. We might hope that our kids will behave responsibly without coaxing or rewards; however, what we are teaching them by using leverage is that responsible behaviors lead to more freedoms. Most items that kids desire are within our control, such as access to our cars, internet usage, cell phones, etc. We can continue to give increased access to our kids as they demonstrate responsible behavior. Sometimes, however, kids display extreme behaviors that seem out of control no matter what we do. We might feel like we’ve tried everything in our power and might need additional support. For parents who feel overwhelmed by their child’s troubling or problematic behaviors, there is help for you and your family. Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center helps kids struggling with mental health concerns, addiction, and other issues. Call us today at (303) 443-3343. We’re here to help your family’s fire burn brightest.