Providing Behavioral Structure For Your Children

By: James P. Krehbiel

Children are not usually amenable to being lectured, given moral injunctions, or being coerced into handling responsibilities. A critical issue with parenting is creating a sense of involvement. In this era, a parent must have established a positive relationship with a child before being able to promote understanding of the responsibilities the child must accomplish. A style of relating based upon mutual respect, encouragement and coaching is essential. Parents need to listen to their children and give them feedback about different ways of viewing problems and issues.

Many times with my own children, I would use newspaper articles as teaching tools. For example, if some celebrity had died as a result of a drug overdose, I would hand them the article, ask them to read it and talk with them about their feelings. It is critical with children that as a parent you allow your child to make value judgments about issues and problems. In a non-threatening manner, a parent can put a child in a position to make important behavioral evaluations. Some key words are, "How do you feel about this? Or what do you plan on doing about this problem?" I call this "boxing a child in". When we, as parents, do the work of making value judgments for kids, they invariably dismiss our judgments. If we ask a child what their plan is for solving a problem, we put the responsibility back where it belongs.

A number of years ago when I was working in the schools as a guidance counselor, I facilitated a parent/teacher conference for a passive teenager. During the conference, the teachers, one by one, were elaborating on the lack of motivation of this student. The student sat quietly at the conference while the parent feverishly took notes regarding her son's missing assignments. This process continued until I finally interrupted, "Mrs. Jones, who's doing the work at this conference, you or your child". She became rather sheepish, and got my point. I slid my clipboard down the conference table and requested that the child begin taking the notes on what was missing in his academic work.

Children need structure and parents need to provide it. It's amazing to me the number of parents who give their kids an allowance without demanding anything in return from their children. I always suggest that parents set up a behavior chart providing their children with responsibilities. I have the parents put a monetary value on each daily item on the chart. At first, I suggest that the chart be rather short. I have the parents and child focus on 4 or 5 areas that need improvement. Each night after dinner, I suggest that the parents review the chart with their child. Areas accomplished successfully should be checked off on the chart and rewarded with tokens. At the end of the week, assuming the child has accomplished some tasks, he will get his allowance based upon tasks completed. If the child saves the money, I recommend the parents provide their child with a 10% monetary bonus. If a child displays negative behavior such as prolonged temper tantrums, disrespect toward others or fits of anger, negative consequences should be implemented. For negative consequences, focus on items that your child values the most and remove privileges for a reasonable amount of time.

It is important as a parent that you are consistent in administering a behavioral consequence system. If you can't be consistent, then don't implement a system. It is important that you use the behavioral consequence system as a way of removing yourself from power struggles with your kids. Parents make a major mistake in over explaining themselves to their children. If you have a rule or consequence, it needs to be enforced, not explained. Parents who try to justify their rules to their children weaken their parental role. Parents somehow believe that their children will not love them if they assert themselves with guidelines for behavior. This is nonsense. Love has nothing to do with it. Children do not respect a parent who does not set up appropriate boundaries for their conduct. Providing behavioral structure for your children is a combination of building respect, establishing rules for behavior and developing responsibility in children.

James P. Krehbiel, Ed.S., LPC, CCBT is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Nationally Certified Cognitive-Behavioral Therapist in private practice in Scottsdale, AZ. He can be reached at (480) 664-6665 or

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