The Goal of this Book
How to Raise Disciplined and Happy Children is intended for parents who are committed to raising responsible children – parents (and all others who take on a parenting role) like you. The book is designed to provide you with an overall strategy for guiding your children to comply with your expectations and with those of the larger society. It is based on the conviction that children deserve loving guidance at each stage of their development, as they move from infancy, with its relative lack of responsibility; through middle-childhood, with growing expectations of cooperation; to adolescence, with ever-increasing demands and responsibilities.
My aim is to help you help your children learn to take appropriate responsibility for their own behavior. This goes beyond just helping you to better control your children to assuring that your children, in keeping with their ages and abilities, behave responsibly on their own, wherever they are,.
We teach two-year-old children to use the toilet. We teach kindergartners to take their turns during group activities. We teach fifth graders to sit quietly in class, complete homework, and respect their teachers. And, we certainly had better teach teenagers to be responsible for managing 3000 pounds of steel and glass at high speeds before we turn them loose to drive on busy highways.
Each of these is just a step in preparing our younger citizens to become caring, respectful, responsible, contributing members of our society, the ultimate goal of good parenting.
Please note that I am referring to children taking responsibility in the broadest sense of the term. This includes not only completing the usual chores and homework but also taking responsibility for how they relate to others, both their peers and adults, and for how they manage their own emotions. This is about learning to take control of their own lives and in the process to feel pride in their own accomplishments. Such learning does not happen overnight but rather represents an ongoing process which most of us continue throughout our lives.
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Children who behave responsibly typically receive strong positive reactions from others and if they receive enough such affirmations they come to feel capable and to act competently. In turn, when they feel competent, children are more willing to try new things, which results in new skills. When guided properly these steps yield still more responsible behavior and therefore still more positive feedback. This cycle represents a crucial support for children developing a pattern of success and maturation and ultimately forms a foundation for building strong self-esteem.
A lot has been written about the importance of building self-esteem in children by telling them how great they are, sometimes even in contexts where the children themselves recognize they haven’t done so well. However, the evidence is pretty clear: the instances in which children observe and experience themselves succeeding are what really matter. Praise from others can support that process, but children must recognize that the praise is genuine for it to be effective. In fact, exaggerated flattery can backfire: children may conclude that they must be pretty pathetic for people to have to pretend they are doing okay when they know they are not.