Create Accountable, Masterful Children: The Family Coach Method

Editor’s Note: In honor of Pediatric Safety’s 5 year bloggiversary, we are publishing 5 of our favorite posts – one from each year since the day we started – every Thursday over the next five weeks. This is our initial anniversary “look-back” post, and was originally published in September 2009 by Dr Lynne Kenney, a former member of our PedSafe Expert Team. Dr Lynne is a mother of two, a practicing pediatric psychologist, and author of The Family Coach Method. We are proud to have had her as part of the Pediatric Safety family and hope you enjoy the opportunity to read or revisit this excellent post.

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The transition from toddler to child is a leap for both of you. As a parent during this time, you go from meeting all your toddler’s needs to helping your 3- to 8-year-old learn to be independent and responsible for herself. This is one of those profound developmental processes that no one really teaches parents how to navigate. But that’s why we’re here now, to help you and your child develop the skills you’ll both need to enter this amazing and challenging time in your lives.

Small steps to wider horizons

When we speak of responsibility and independence, we’re really talking about mastery and accountability. In other kidschoreslink2words, your child is free to wander a little farther away from you at the park because he has mastered the skills required to do that: he stays within bounds, he engages with other children respectfully, and he knows basic concepts of safety. And he has shown you that you can rely on him to do these things as you expect – this is the accountability part. The level of independence you give him, and the accountability you expect in return, will grow as your child grows. Children as young as 3 are beginning to feel their own way in the world, with your guidance.

But how do you introduce independence and responsibility to your children? First, you provide your child with the opportunity to exhibit a greater level of skill than he has previously. You might make the conscious choice to stop picking up your son’s underwear from the bathroom floor and expect him by age 3 or 3 ½ to put them in the laundry basket himself (He’ll feel like such a big boy!). You start to break down specific tasks and activities of daily living and allow your child to do more for himself. These are often small tasks for an adult, but brand new and perhaps even exciting to a child.

As you clean your home or fold the laundry, begin identifying small tasks that you can give your child so that he can feel more sense of accomplishment and mastery. Don’t worry too much if she gets it wrong at first – he will master his new skill quickly.

If you haven’t already noticed, your 3-year-old is capable of several chores around the house. She can pull up the covers on her bed, pick up toys and put them in the toy bins, take her laundry to the laundry room, pour water for the family dog, wipe up his messes with a paper towel and even help you dust. Watch the transformation from toddler to skillful 3-year-old as your child proudly helps you and herself.

Example: When your 3-year-old asks for milk, you say, “Let’s look on your shelf in the ‘fridge. Do you see it there?” Voilá! Before your child, right at eye level, is his cup of milk, pre-made (of course you were ready for the request!). “You can take it and drink it.” In this simple scenario, your child now experiences pride at being able to do this on his own for the first time.

By the time a child is 5, he is ready to hear, “You are really growing up. You want to do many things like play at the park, ride your bike on your own, and stay up later. You may be ready to do those things, but with independence comes responsibility.” These are big concepts for a child, but ones which they are primed for and often quite ready to understand. It happens with small steps.

Your 8-year-old has better dexterity, is taller and can think through tasks better than a 3-year-old. He can help you fold laundry and put it away in open drawers. He can set the table, clear the table and he may even love vacuuming. Your job is providing the opportunity to complete these tasks, but his experience will develop solid skills for a lifetime. As always, don’t expect perfection and give credit for a thoughtful effort.

* TIP: If you want to suggest improvement, frame it in the language of success: “You did a great job folding those shirts! Would you like to see a little trick for making it even easier?”

Independence and responsibility go hand in hand

With the independence of sleeping in a “big girl” bed comes the responsibility of making the bed each morning. With the independence of taking the school bus comes the responsibility of placing homework, lunch and permission slips in the backpack, then leaving it in “ready-to-go” position at the back door. With the independence of watching television one hour a day comes the responsibility of making sure homework is completed before the television is turned on. See how this goes?

When you tie independence to responsibility early in life, good habits that foster responsible independence become the norm.

Teaching your children this relationship early will lead to children who place their clothing in the hamper and not on the floor, teens who clean up their fast food when they return the car, and college students who always finish their studies before going out at night with their friends. As in adulthood, independence and freedom must co-exist with responsibility.

Demonstrate this now and your children will understand it forever. Responsibility may not be the message they’re getting from the popular culture around them, but it’s the message they’re now getting from their family culture…and you’re taking the proactive measures to establish your family culture strongly in your children’s minds and hearts. Is it worth the effort? You bet it is!

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The Family Coach Definition: Task Demand

(n.) A task demand is a set of expectations that require a certain level of skill to complete. The task demand is what is required of you to complete an action. The skill is what is needed to meet the requirement. Examples of task demands would be: 1) being required to wait to walk out the door, when you are really excited and your parent tells you, “Wait until I say you may go outside.” 2) being required to put your hands in your pockets before you get near a brand new baby. 3) needing to hold a pencil correctly in order to write your name. 4) needing to shift one’s attention from the television to the parent, when the parent says, “Turn off the TV.”

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familycoach-book-smaller*Note: this post is an excerpt from Dr Kenney’s book “The Family Coach Method”. The Family Coach Method is ‘rug-level,’ friendly and centered on the concept of families as a winning team – with dozens of age-appropriate sample conversations and problem solving scenarios to guide a family to the desired place of mutual respect, shared values and strengths. The goal is to help children to develop the life skills, judgment and independence that can help them navigate the challenges of an increasingly complex world.

About the Author

Lynne Kenney, Psy.D., is a Harvard trained psychologist, a mother of two, an international educator, and pediatric psychologist in Scottsdale, AZ. Since 1985, Dr. Kenney has worked as an educator in community service from the inner cities of Los Angeles to national organizations such as The Neurological Health Foundation, Understood.org, HandsOn Phoenix, and Points of Light (Generation On). Dr. Kenney’s works include the Social-Emotional Literacy program Bloom Your Room™; Musical Thinking; Bloom: 50 things to say, think and do with anxious, angry and over-the-top-kids and 70 Play Activities For Better Thinking, Self-Regulation, Learning and Behavior. Learn more at www.lynnekenney.com. Lynne is a member of the PedSafe Expert team

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