Balanced Parenting And Child Self-Motivation

All parents are tempted to constantly watch or supervise their children. Even if constant supervision were possible and it isn't - it's not a worthwhile goal for either parents or kids. Children benefit by gradually learning to assume responsibility for their behavior.

Successful mothers and fathers are always in the process of retiring from their job as parents. That is, parents of newborns are inevitably responsible for every aspect of their children's lives. But, as children grow older, it should be just as inevitable that parents give up some of that responsibility - in small, progressive steps - as a way to foster their children's inclination to take care of themselves.

It's a natural inclination: Kids know what's right from the earliest years. One mother noted that at 9-months old, her daughter ventured around the house pointing to various items and saying "no, Mommy." The girl already knew what not to touch. Would it help to tell her a thousand, or ten thousand times, what else she shouldn't touch or shouldn't do? Not really.

But most parents feel uncomfortable unless they provide kids with thousands, possibly millions, of unneeded directives and warnings. The problem with this style of parenting is that it robs children of their own motivation to succeed and to learn other important values of our culture, like loving, playing and keeping healthy.

Parents do better when they adopt a more balanced approach to raising their children. Kids need control and protection, and parents have to provide it. But children also need the type of training that will teach them to be responsible for themselves and make good decisions.

Balance involves defining the things that parents must control, as well as the less essential decisions that can be left to children. Parents must have the last word when the issue involves something fundamentally important, such as guarding the health and safety of their children, or teaching kids respect for others. But there are many less momentous decisions that can and should be left to the kids, such as how to comb their hair, where to do their homework, or how to decorate their room.

Every family has a different definition of what's essential and what isn't, and the definition changes as the child grows older. The specifics are less important than the principle of leaving some decisions to the kids.

Children who learn a sense of responsibility early - and the process should start at age 3, or so - are more practiced at making good choices. They're more likely to make the right decisions when they grow older and confront issues like drug and alcohol abuse or the temptation to drop out of school.

For appointments and scheduled consultations, please contact Dr. J. Brien O'Callaghan at or write to him at J. Brien O'Callaghan, Ph.D., 246 Federal Road, C-32, Brookfield, CT 06804