A natural inclination towards encouraging independence was reinforced by two seminars which influenced my parenting style.
The first was taken by Wilf Jarvis who developed Four Quadarant Leadership. It was a business seminar but the principles applied just as much to parenting.
To understand the theory, you need to imagine a graph with a child’s ability on the vertical axis and the parent’s control on the horizontal one.
Quadrant one is at the lower right where the child has no ability and the parent is in total control, that’s I’m in charge.
Quadrant two moves up and left and that’s we’ll discuss and I’ll decide. Quadrant three moves further up and left and that’s we’ll discuss and we’ll decide and the fourth quadrant is at the top left and that’s you’re responsible for yourself, but I’m here if you want some advice.
Jarvis said children should be in quadrant four for sex, drugs, and alcohol before they got to high school – and given that it’s now more than 20 years since I heard him, it’s possible the age is now lower. Some people thought that was too young but if we don’t prepare children to make the right decisions before they need to, it will be too late.
The second influence was a Positive Parenting course which emphasised the need for children to face consequences for their actions.
The first course of action when children do something wrong should be natural consequences where you do nothing and let what would happen, happen. If however, natural consequences would be too dangerous, expensive or pleasurable, then you use logical consequences.
For example if the child leaves a bike on the drive, the natural consequence is that it will get run over which is expensive. The logical consequence is to put the bike away where the child can’t get it and make him/her do without it for a time.
Knowing the theory doesn’t guarantee that you always apply it correctly when it’s called for in practice, but it does at least give some good guidelines which ensure you, and your children, know the rules and what happens when they get broken.
Making children face the consequences of their actions also makes it quite clear who the adults are in the relationship.
Building on these principles, was advice from friends whose children a little older than ours, about teaching them the value of money.
The year their offspring started high school they were given an allowance. The family paid for anything to do with family, education or health and the allowance had to cover everything else.
For example, the family bought school uniforms, including sports gear, the children bought all their other clothes; and if the family went on an outing the family paid, if the children went out independently they paid.
A couple of ground rules were established – there would be no advances, if the allowance ran out before the month did they had to earn extra or do without; and they had to have enough clean clothes which would be appropriate for any occasion they had to attend.
The allowance was set at a realistic level, not so low it wouldn’t cover necessities nor too high it wouldn’t teach them how to budget. If you were really organised you’d keep a note of everything you spend on the things which aren’t covered by family, education or health categories, the year before the kids go to high school and divide that by 12.
We weren’t that organised and followed our friends’ example with $100 a month. But that was more than 10 years ago so it would need to be a bit more now.
When we’ve discussed this, some people say they couldn’t afford it. But those of us who’ve done it are sure it doesn’t cost any more, and probably costs parents less than not having an allowance because the parents aren’t responsible for buying things for the children and it stops the “can I have” hassles. The kids might ask for advice but they don’t ask for money because they know how much they’ve got and have to budget for themselves.
It saves a lot of arguments, gives the offspring independence – and it’s better that they learn that while they’re still at home or they’ll turn in to the sort of adults Cactus Kate has to say “no” to.
Whether it’s saying no to bad behaviour or irresponsible spending, parents are supposed to be the adults in the family so it’s up to them to say it, and the earlier they start saying it the less they’ll need to say it because children learn to take responsibility for themselves.