As a result of our democratic form of government, American citizens are entitled to have our voices count, be part of a system in which we take pride, and feel empowered by influencing the decisions our leaders make. One of the main principles guiding our democracy is the notion that we all have the right to free speech and to advocate on our own behalf as well as for policies in which we believe.
There are many parallels between the elements that help make our democratic society strong and the elements that can make our families strong. By considering these principles and the structure of our government and by applying them in your family, you can foster many traits in your children that will help them become independent and competent citizens. Let’s see how this would work.
The Parental Executive Branch
First, there is the parental “EXECUTIVE BRANCH.” This is the area where:
- You make the many decisions according to your beliefs, values, and daily schedules that keep your family functioning and safe.
- You act as benevolent rulers by setting limits and disciplining in a loving manner.
Because of your experience and judgment, you are more qualified than your children (you hope!) to act in this role.
The Parental Legislative Branch
Second, there is the , “LEGISLATIVE BRANCH” where there is open debate about issues and decisions of the day.
- You can invite your children to contribute their input about some of the family decisions that have an effect on them.
- You can include in this process your children’s opinions about food selection, friends, activities, and gift giving.
- It is best to choose a time when there is no conflict or crisis on the home front to begin giving your children a say and offering them choices to help them learn how to make wise decisions.
- You can involve them in the conversations, as long as principles of mutual respect and tolerance for differing ideas are appreciated.
By participating in the rule-making, they can learn how to state their opinions, learn important “listening” and debate skills, and, in the process, perhaps adopt some of your family’s beliefs. They also become contributing members of a democratic household. In having a say in some of the decisions that affect them, American citizens and your children will have more “buy-in” to choices their country and your family make.
Often there is a back-and-forth relationship between the executive and legislative branches as well as between the parent and child. Initially the parental executive branch sets the non-negotiable rules such as wearing seat belts, attending school, and not using illegal drugs or participating in other illicit activities. Over time, you see a shift towards operating more like the legislative branch does with more negotiable rules. These negotiations create the opportunity to promote an open dialogue. Examples can include such things as the planning of weekend activities, selecting a location to do their homework, and agreeing on curfews.
Although ultimately most decisions will be delegated to your child, remember that the “executive veto” is always in effect.
The Parental Judical Branch
Third, the “JUDICIAL BRANCH” of government weighs whether the rules have been followed and imposes consequences when they have not. There are two types of CONSEQUENCES when rules are broken.
Natural consequences are the result of a child’s choice and happen without the need for your involvement. The natural consequence for a child who goes to bed late might be that he is tired the next day. Life can be the best teacher of all.
Imposed consequences, by contrast, involve your intervention. The imposed consequence to him learn from this mistake would be that he needs to make up for lost sleep by going to bed earlier than the typical lights-out time.
Older children can participate in determining imposed consequences when rules are not followed. As with setting rules, it can be very effective to allow your child a say in what a consequence should be. For example, your child might agree that if she takes too long to get ready in the morning and ends up missing the bus to school, she will reimburse you for the time and gas it will take you to drive her. In order for the lesson to be learned, it is important to keep the consequence appropriate, short-lived, concrete, and related to the incident. The minimal appropriate consequence will have the greatest positive impact.
Just as our country’s respect for diversity of opinion has made our democracy strong, parents who apply these same principles to family life can:
- raise children who have confidence in their ideas, greater self-reliance, and better decision-making skills.
- children who are likely to view you as fair.
- children who are most likely to become autonomous, well-adjusted adolescents and young adults who maintain a loving relationship with you.
With any luck, allowing your young ones’ voices to be heard may encourage your children to grow into future leaders!By Ellen Mishel and Pam Nicholson, Certified Parenting Educators
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