Empowering Parents Instead of Isolating Them
I struggled with an issue I first started working with kids in Allendale. When children behaved disrespectfully and destructively (such as fighting), I would ask why they did that, and sometimes they would say, “My Mom told me to do that.”
I was caught off-guard. Should I allow their behavior, because their parent allowed it? Or should I tell them that their mother was wrong?
Just as when I was a children’s pastor, I wanted to equip parents to lead their children. But what if the parent was absent, like so many disconnected dads in this area? How do you team up with parents if they are not in the game themselves?
Or what if, as I learned from teachers and parents in Allendale, the parent is the problem? For example, when a parent is rude and disrespectful to a teacher, what do you think the child will learn to do?
Neither Condone nor Condemn Parents
Of course, with such negative behavior (language, violence, attitude, etc), we cannot just allow it. It’s true that sometimes what I see as “bad” behavior may be required for survival in some situations in their lives, as a means of defense. But, as I explained to them, as long as I or other leaders were around, they need to trust us to protect them.
But, the one time I told a child, “Your mom is wrong,” I knew I made a mistake. We should not undercut parental authority, even if they parents are not training their children well. Undermining parental authority is weakening parental authority. It’s not much different (and may even be worse) than the above example of a parent undermining the teacher’s authority.
Instead of condoning or condemning what a parent is teaching, we need to seek to empower parents and to show children that they need to respect them. Because even for all the mistakes that parents make (myself included), they also are doing a bunch of stuff correct.
Here are some examples of how I’ve tried to empower parents to lead their children:
- Obedience. A boy had just joined the after school program. When Mom came to pick him up the first couple of days, he repeatedly ignored her when she was calling him off the basketball court. Mom and I were talking, and when he finally came (5-10 minutes later), I sternly pointed out to him — in front of his mom — that I was glad he enjoyed being in our program, but that his family is always more important than being part of this club. The next time Mom came, I expected him to obey her, to respect her as she is serving him by driving out there to pick him up.
- Lying. I had repeated conversations with a Dad about his middle school age son. The boy was often sneaky, a liar, and disrespectful, but would often go weeks at a time with better behavior and attitudes. Though talented, he was struggling in school, too. I had great conversations with Dad, and offered to meet with him at the school, to come alongside him to help him get the help he needed.
- Consequences. One boy, who was generally well-behaved, did something wrong, so I told him he had to sit out of playing for a few minutes. I took a few steps away, and turned back to talk to him again, . . . just as he was giving me the middle finger. Busted. But instead of me giving a consequence, I wanted to wait until Mom got there. I told her what happened, and said that I could suspend him, but I asked her what she thought would be an effective consequence. She came up with the idea to taking away his video games for a few days, and together Mom and I informed the boy of what his consequence would be.
- More Consequences. With another boy who was regularly suspended (fighting, bad language, lying), the parent asked us, “Can you put him to work instead of suspending him?” We said that we would try that out. Let me tell you — we had the cleanest windows, sinks, door knobs, and baseboards. Win.
- Fighting. As an example of what we’ve done when a child says, “My mom told me to fight when someone bothers me,” I’ve done this. When Mom came for pick up, the three of us had a talk. Whatever Mom had previously told him, we all agreed that it was OK for the child to fight back if there were no adults, or if the adults did nothing about it.
Parenting is hard. Parents, no matter what race or demographic, get tired, frustrated, and defensive. They don’t need to feel like they are our enemy; they need us to be on their side.
Looking forward to continuing to coming alongside parents, as a team effort to train kids.
- Improving Our School Report Card
- Engaging and Disciplining Middle School Boys
- The Struggles of Some Boys (Emotional Self-Control)
- Conversations with Parents (from Corduroy’s Button)
**image courtesy of glendali via sxc.hu