Accountability Explanation #3

Leading a Parent/Child Council

How do you properly mentor a child towards mature accountability?

An important first step in starting the transformation during these accountability years is to decide which rules and decisions should come first in handing over the reigns of choices and real-life consequences…

Council with your spouse or partner to brainstorm some ideas before chatting with your child. But you’ll also want to seek input from your child on which decisions he or she is dying to make. In general, be more open-minded than you think you should be. The red box on the slide represents a few choices that are typically quite inconsequential in the long run--in other words kids can practice making these decisions and setting these limits and noticing the outcomes of their decisions without tons of long-term risk. So those are the decisions we tend to let our kids target first.

Now, I can feel your panic attack through our internet connection. I was in the same boat years back. I couldn’t imagine what would happen if my 7 or 8-year-old was let loose in the kitchen or allowed to pick his own “reasonable” bedtime each night without me nagging that it was time for him to do this or that or be here or there. But I’ve been glad I’ve let my kids start to feel more in control of pieces of their lives at a relatively young age. It has taught me the art of giving them space without panicking so I could still maintain a relationship on the most important stuff.

Parents of teens who are struggling with feeling overly controlled will often tell me that they wish they had started allowing small decisions years ago. Giving kids practice in decision-making before the much more dangerous issues like teen parties, dating relationships, and high school stress became front and center is important for ACC and PFC brain development.

That said, every parent has a different comfort level for various decisions, so start by making a list of decisions or limits possible and then place them on your OWN line of risky vs inconsequential. Then think open-mindedly about which decisions your child might feel successful--and safe--in being accountable for while being mentored over time. Your red box may start relatively small, but it should increase significantly as your child matures and by the time the self-discipline stage begins at the onset of puberty. Ideally the red box should be close to filling the page as your child steps into the Independent Stage just a few years later.

Personally...and please don’t assume my way is the only way or best way….my favorites to hand over the reigns on are spending money and what to wear because both give pretty immediate recognition of whether the choice was a good idea or not. If your child runs out of money or feels cold or hot, the natural consequence gets noticed fairly quickly. Allowing our kids to pick their own routine with various things around the house is my second favorite to let them decide because it helps them feel empowered and proves that we’re serious about having confidence that they are getting more mature. Plus it gives us a chance to have ongoing mentoring discussions about how their choices of daily routines are working or not.

Decisions I don’t feel comfortable handing over right away include media use or freedoms with friends for safety reasons, but we can usually find smaller parameters to work with them on with even those decisions and we can explain that we’re looking forward to when these practicing years prepare them to make some of those bigger decisions alone later in life.

I also want to note that most of these decisions still have parental parameters...i can dedicate a section of the pantry or fridge for food that is okay for consumption whenever while keeping other food under stricter expectations. This allows choices without dictating when and what to eat every minute of the day. And with money, I can set up multiple accounts and give them freedom over just a spending account and not a savings account.

With media limits, I can include parental apps and maintain limits on nighttime use while allowing them room to set some of their own media limits during the day. Outside schedules and deadlines also naturally dictate family routines, so let those natural consequences be a part of your discussions with your child.

Remember that it’s important to help kids understand how some decisions are more risky than others and your job is still to keep your child safe. If your child keeps questioning a certain limit, listen and empathize with concerns and potentially consider being more honest with your older child about real, scary risks...What’s the procedure for filling a cavity? What are some risks of wandering alone in the neighborhood? How does success in school now prepare you for the future? How does media use affect brain development? Which foods and daily habits decrease chances of serious diseases?...The goal is not to scare kids, but if they are begging for answers, being honest is helpful.

See slide 2 below

Once you’ve got a general idea of which decisions you feel comfortable letting your child make, it’s time to let your child’s PFC have some real-life experiences in processing cues from the ACC. Click on the video called “Transition Dialogue” for some ideas about how your initial conversation with your child could go. And then before you actually talk with your child, become familiar with this mentoring cycle. As the circle implies, it never ends. While your child is testing out his or her ability to make decisions and notice outcomes, YOU are testing your ability to accurately observe and prepare for mentoring meetings by taking notes and practicing personal mindfulness. You are also testing your ability to wisely council WITH your child about natural consequences without overly dominating or controlling the choices and outcomes. And you are testing--and this is usually the biggest test-- your ability to truly give your child time and space to let her or his ACC & PFC work together as decisions need to be made each day.

Try to picture yourself fulfilling each of the important parts of the mentoring cycle and let it all sink into your mind and heart before you sit down with your child. The more natural and mindful you feel, the more comfortable your child will feel...and the more engaged your child’s PFC will be.

See slide 3 below

Finally, here are a few phrases to consider using as you hold mentoring meetings with your child. These are intended to help shift decision-making over to your child by activating your child’s attention and executive functions, or in other words your child’s ACC/PFC partnership. The effectiveness of such phrases, however, is dependent on your sincere sense of peace that you should be feeling in your heart as your practice mindfulness. A message of care and concern for your child AND of confidence in your child’s budding ability to be more mature is the goal with any of these phrases. So spend some time pondering how you might use any of these phrases and of course customise them or add some of your own to the list.