I once heard about a father who took his son on a cold morning down to the beach in order to teach him a lesson he'd never forget.
He dipped his son in the freezing water. The little boy was screaming at the top of his lungs, "I'm cold! I'm freezing! Oooooh!". The father then took him out and wrapped him up in a warm towel to which the boy responded with a sigh of relief, "Ah! Ah! It feels so good."
"What just happened is a very important lesson in life," said the father. "Throughout life you will frequently hear people make the sounds of 'Ooh' when things are hard and 'Ah' when things are nice. We cannot control it, it is a natural thing. The only thing that we can control is the order of the sounds."
The father went on to explain "If you want to have a successful life, you must ensure that the 'ooh' sound comes before the 'ah' sound. For example, in the evening you have to make a choice. You can do your homework and, in return, achieve good academic results -- which is the 'ooh' and then the 'ah.' Or you can play and get bad results -- which is the 'ah' first but a big 'ooh' later.
"It's like a farmer who first has to plough and plant his field (ooh!) and only later will be able to enjoy the harvest (ah!)."
Good effective parenting requires us to instill in our child from a very early age this basic law of nature -- that the 'ooh' comes before the 'ah'. We are not doing the child a favor by not letting them experience the pleasure of positive choices and the pain of negative ones.
The best way of training them is by giving our children responsibilities where they have to make the choices of "ooh and ah" or "ah and ooh". It has to be done in a way where it is entirely up to them whether it gets carried out or not -- nobody else can be blamed if it fails. We should reinforce the famous saying "If it's to be, it's up to me".
A good way to introduce this is during a family meeting where the father says, "I am responsible for managing the family budget and cooking dinner." The mother says, "I am responsible for getting the children ready for school and doing the gardening." And then we turn to the child and ask them what contribution they can make, based on their age and capabilities.
Research has found that children who have been given responsibilities, even as young as 3 or 4, have developed a great pride in their achievements. They feel very important and it improves their self esteem. Furthermore, they grow up to be responsible adults taking charge of their life and able to make choices between right and wrong.
In order to make certain this is successful we have to ensure that we don't take back the responsibility from the children and we leave it up to them. Children are experts in delegating back their responsibilities to their parents. What's needed is:
* Very clear positive and negative consequences have to be established.
* Clear guidelines should be set as to what is expected, but not how to do it -- this has to become a child's responsibility. The parents may assist if requested but it has to be that the parent is assisting the child, not the child assisting the parent.
* Make sure that it is not dependent on anybody else to accomplish and the child has sole responsibility.
Children with a sense of responsibility will also perform better in school as well as all other areas of their life.
Try it -- it works!