Updated: Nov 8, 2020
Teach the next generation to choose wisely
Life is a series of episodes connected and given direction by our choices.
Remember Cog? 'Cog's children, who survived, teach their children, "Stay inside and don't go out after dark or you'll be eaten,".' This hold's true even today, even though the nature of the darkness has changed and presents us with different kinds of choices. As parents, you want your children to make good choices -,'...so by learning this from Cog they didn't have to experience the risk for themselves,' - starting with simply learning the difference between right and wrong.
How many times have your parents told you not to do this or that, followed by a story of an experience of their own to teach you. You either held it as a value, belief and is now your ideology, or you challenged it and discovered it not to be true, or there was a better way. Either way is a choice. As your parents wanted you to benefit from their teaching to spare you the unpleasant experiences they had, you teach your children in the same way. This all begins with teaching children the difference between right and wrong. This is the first step to achieving most every parents goal for their children. To be successful in life.
Success comes from good decision making. How can you help your child make better decisions? By teaching them to choose wisely.
In working with parents with young children for many years, I learned that most all parents want their children to turn out to be successful, but don't know how to get them from here to there, especially now. Many parents just want to be able to get through the day.
Children need structure, guidance, routine, activity and a whole lot of Love. This makes the debate about re opening schools such an important one. How do you meet these needs of children, many of which schools provide, or supplement, while keeping them healthy and safe? Till that questions is answered many children are at home and many parents struggle with how to meet the challenge of this new situation (if your looking for more ways to make time at home more meaningful, read my April 10 blog, Couples; Tips on how to survive and thrive in the confinement imposed by Covid-19, may be helpful to you). Parenting styles that were fine 6 months ago may not be working as well now.
'When the truth on which an ideology is based is no longer true then the ideology becomes an illusion supported by those who cling to a past that is no more and become imprisoned by it.' This could be because what you've learned from being raised by your parents doesn't apply now, or it's hard to sort through and decide what to do from all the information out there, some of which, competes with what you've taught them. How do you pass your values and beliefs, you're ideology to your children? The comparisons for good decision making are different now than when you grew up? Some of you may even feel stuck in a parenting nightmare.
So, where do you go from here. In my years of practice as a psychotherapist one of my favorites and effective methods of helping parents teach their children to make good choices has been the Token Economy. I won't go into the details of how to create a token economy here, as there can be many components, so I've included a link to resources that can help you create a token economy in your home. If you should undertake creating a Token Economy (TE) there's are a few things I've discovered over the years that can be helpful to increase the chances of success that's given, little or no attention in the linked information.
What is a Token Economy?
A Token Economy is a form of behavior modification that rewards (tokens) appropriate desirable behavior and discourages (no tokens) inappropriate and undesirable behavior in a systematic way that promotes good choices through comparison (reward vs consequences). The Tokens are the currency, secondary reinforcers, in which primary reinforcers, treats or toys, for example, are purchased.
The purpose of the Token Economy
The purpose of the TE is to help parent's achieve their goal for their children. To be successful in life. This begins with, what I call, instilling in your child a Moral Compass. When this is successful it means your child chooses to do the right thing even when no one is watching, simply because it's the right thing to do. Put another way. A wise woman I once knew, told her children, "If you can't tell me about it, don't do it." The outcome sought is for children to make good choices and grow into successful adults. As a parent, isn't this what you want for your children?
Parents are not always clear on the use of discipline. They often regard discipline as punishment. Discipline is defined as training, practice and repetition. Discipline is the process of learning. If this is the case, then a disciplinarian is a teacher, or parent and the child a disciple, who you are teaching your values and beliefs that eventually becomes your child's Moral Compass. Discipline is necessary for developing our spiritual attributes and as parents, cultivating them in our children.
Discipline is established through household rules. There have been times parents come to me with complaints of their child(ren's) behavior being disrespectful, don't get along with siblings or peers, talks back, is defiant and so on. The first question I ask is, what are your rules at home? They might answer with clean their room, take out the trash, pick up after themselves, etc. When asked how come the rules don't address the problem behavior. They really don't know. Was this how they were raised? I help them to distinguish between rules and chores. This is when many realize what they use as rules are the reason for the problem behavior. Rules need to address the behavior by stating the behavior that's desired. A rule is then, fashioned to promote' respectful behavior' by asking for it, rather than fighting over, 'taking out the trash.'
Parents should be clear on what they value and believe. If both parent value respectful behavior, but only one enforces the rule and the other allows the disrespectful behavior to slide, it means one believes it more than the other and the child gets mixed messages and the confusion causes more problems. Both parents need to come to an agreement on what they can enforce/teach as a team because they believe in it and can support each other by enforcing the rules equally and consistently between them (..each one must share one goal with someone else, and in doing so, lose all sense of separate interest (1). In this regard, as a single parent you only need be clear on what you value to formulate rules, and that others who may be involved with your child, enforces the rules as you instruct.
If the goal is the successful development in your child of a Moral Compass the rules must reflect your core values. If your core values are based on, treat others how you want to be treated, and your rules teach this, then this becomes the foundation from which your child's Moral Compass is expressed through good decision making and reflected in their choices.
How the world works
The big advantage of the TE is that you can replicate how the world works in your home to begin to prepare them for what to expect as they begin school and venture out into the community. As they learn to make better choices and earn and spend tokens at home they also gradually come to learn how to participate in society and what's expected of them. They learn about economics in a very real, but simple way on a small scale they can later apply to navigate this world. Earning their way takes on meaning and value.
The time will come
A TE can be adapted to most age children, however, I've come to believe the older the child the more challenging to implement. To be most effective TE is begun in early childhood. The earlier the better (4 or 5). The longer their exposure to your values the better prepared they'll be for when that time comes when they're faced with choosing between a tempting, opposing choice of peers and the values you've been teaching. This will be the first test of their Moral Compass. To choose to do the right thing even when you're not around. Know that this time will come whether you've prepared them or not.
The best part of cultivating your child's decision making through the TE is the opportunities it provides to praise your child's accomplishments and good choices leading to those accomplishments. The positive impact on self esteem and self confidence is invaluable. As parents you're able to directly participate in the cultivation of your child's spiritual nature by teaching how important the gift of choice is and it's right useness. The chances are boundless for sharing loving relationships within the family that later develop into positive social skills for your child in the community. When the TE is approached as the learning process that it is, then wrong choices become mistakes to be corrected rather than bad choices to be punished, so they learn they are guiltless and good.
These are but a few advantages of TE whether your children are having behavior problem or not. TE can be used as an organizational structure at home for scheduling and laying out expectations, or as a behavior management method to add more parenting skills, tools and strategies.
When you look at the riots, looting and violence going on now, would you point to the parenting they might have had? Are some expressing the values taught to them by their parents, or opposing them? Do you think parents wanted their children to grow into young adults who riot, or who have a successful life? See the choices here? What do you suspect is being compared to arrive at such choices to destroy, disrespect and riot? All interesting questions.
I remember a few years back I saw a family referred by CPS. There were drugs and child abuse involved. The father was angry for having to meet CPS requirements to get his children returned and CPS out of his life and didn't feel therapy was needed. His wife on the other hand was more open to the need for change. After introducing the TE all eventually got on board. In helping them create the system they wanted for their family what the mother envisioned I'll never forget. She saw the TE as a way to touch the future and influence her families future generations by keeping logs of how the TE worked, the rules, the rewards, the consequences, all of it, that would become manuals to be added to and handed down from one generation to the next as a way to teach their children to choose wisely. She saw a way to keep their new parental ideology intact, break the cycle of abuse and addiction and in a fashion extend their immortality.
If you have young children, now is the time to choose the kind of person your child will grow into by choosing to be the kind of parent that teaches the next generation to choose wisely.
(1)Escape from Insanity Illusions and Lies.8.66
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