News & Views
from   The Parenting Center at Abington

     A Vote for Democracy
Creating Opportunities for a Voice and
a Vote in Our Homes

  Election day can stir up many thoughts. For some, the first Tuesday of November may be just another day. For others, voting can mean endorsing a platform, a candidate or an idea. It is a chance to have your voice count.

   There are many parallels between the elements that help make our democratic society strong and the elements that can make our families strong. In this election season, it might be worthwhile to consider some of these principles and the structure of our government that make our society great and apply them to our family life.

  One of the main principles guiding our democracy is the notion that we all have the right to free speech. In most instances, we appreciate being consulted when decisions are to be made that affect us. If we apply these same decision making principles in our home, we can foster many traits in our children that will help them become independent and competent citizens. Let’s see how this would work.

  First, we have the parental “executive branch.” This is where we make the many decisions according to our beliefs and our schedule requirements in order to keep the family functioning and safe. We act as benevolent rulers by setting limits and disciplining in a loving manner. Because of our experience and judgment, we are more qualified (hopefully!) to act in this role.

   Second, we have the “legislative branch”, where there is open debate about issues and decisions of the day. We can invite our children to contribute their input about some of the family decisions that have an effect on them. We can expand this process to include our children’s opinions about food selection, playmates, activities, and gift giving. It is often better to choose a time when there is no conflict or crisis on the home front to begin the process of giving our children a say and giving them choices to help them learn how to make wise decisions. By involving them in the process, as long as principles of mutual respect and tolerance for diverse ideas are respected, they can learn how to state their opinions. They also learn important ‘listening’ skills, learn debate skills, and, in the process, might adopt some of the family beliefs. They also become contributing members of a democratic household.

  Again looking to the parental “executive branch”, one probably would assign different weights to the children’s opinions as they grow from childhood to adolescence, with the goal of giving them total autonomy as they become mature young adults. Initially there are more NON-NEGOTIABLE rules such as a requirement for wearing seat belts, attending school, and banning the use of illegal drugs and other illegal activities. Over time, we see a shift towards operating much as the “legislative branch” does and there would be more NEGOTIABLE rules. These negotiations create the opportunity to promote the process of an open dialogue. Examples can include such things as the planning of weekend activities, agreeing on the location of where the children do their homework, and agreeing on curfews.

  As in government, there are less critical issues that can be DELEGATED to the children, which foster the sense of independence and importance. These can range from letting our children decide whether to wear a particular outfit or whether to eat salad with dinner to the planning of their own activities. Over time, most decisions would be delegated to your child.

  Third, we have the “judiciary branch” of our government, where we weigh whether the rules have been followed. There are two types of CONSEQUENCES when rules are broken. Natural consequences are the result of a child’s choice, without the need for parental involvement. The natural consequences of a child who does not study for a test would be for him/her to do poorly on the test. Logical consequences involve a parent’s participation. The logical consequence, in contrast, for them to learn from this mistake would be that the child would not be allowed to play until his/her homework/studying is completed. Older children can participate in determining options for logical consequences for not keeping to the rules. Their input in setting the rules can be helpful to them in avoiding negative consequences. As Barbara Coloroso states in her book, Kids Are Worth It, it is more difficult for a child to disobey a rule when she/he has been involved in crafting it. It is important to keep the consequence appropriate, short-lived in keeping with the incident, and concrete so the lesson is not lost.

  Just as our country’s respect for diversity in expressing one’s opinion has made our democracy strong, children raised in a family that applies these same principles to family life can create children who have confidence in their ideas, have greater self-reliance, have better decision-making skills, and likely view their parents as fair. These may be the children who are most likely to become autonomous, well-adjusted adolescents and young adults. Hopefully, as we allow our children’s voices to be heard, they may someday grow into future leaders!

  Suggested Readings:  Barbara Coloroso, Kids Are Worth It
    Peter Marshall, Now I Know Why Tigers Eat Their Young

Written by Ellen Mishel and Pam Nicholson, Certified Parenting Educators
November, 2002
Vol. 5/ No.3
The Parenting Center at Abington
is a non-profit, non-sectarian community service organization.

Editor of News and Views: Deanna Bosley,
Certified Parenting Educator

A publication from The Parenting Center at Abington
P.O. Box 596, Abington, PA 19001 (215) 576-0586

Printing of this newsletter is courtesy of the Abington Memorial Hospital.
The Abington Board of School Directors assumes no responsibility for the opinions, information and possible typographical errors and omissions, etc. that maybe reflected herein.

[ To archived listing | To PCA Home Page ]