“It’s harder for children nowadays with all of the technology and temptations and bad examples”, a mother said to me at a recent conference where I was speaking. We talked for a moment about the differences between her childhood and the childhood of her children. She was concerned. She felt lost and confused about what she should do to help them navigate these unfamiliar challenges. Then she said, “The complexities of today must require more complex solutions.”
I understood her concerns , and why she would assume complex problems require complex solutions; however, I knew her assumption was incorrect. One thing I’ve learned in all the years of raising my four children and doing therapeutic treatment care for the many foster children who came to stay with us, is modern complexities demand simple solutions.
Finding Simple Solutions Through Principles
When the BBC asked me to be on their program, The World’s Strictest Parents, in 2009, they took some time before the beginning of the program to tell me about all the issues with which the two 17-year-old teens were struggling. It was clear to me the producers were hoping to foster some stress or worry in me. But I wasn’t concerned. For many years, I’d taken in some of the most difficult youth the state had to offer. I had seen behaviors I didn’t even know existed. I knew there wasn’t much I hadn’t seen. I knew no matter what behaviors these two new youth would use to try to gain control or cause trouble, the solution was always the same – appeal to my principles.
In order to create a firm and loving home where the spirit of love could reside, despite the issues children in our home were facing, we had to rely heavily upon the following principles: honesty, calmness, patience, trust, acceptance, love, work, play, compassion, mercy, justice, loyalty, unity, understanding, open-communication, roles, health, timing, time, identity, trust, priorities, teaching, planning, correcting, praising, problem solving, leadership, emotional intelligence, emotional strength, and self-government.
To accomplish the task of living by my principles, which is much harder than simply identifying them, I had to create a system. A system would support the entire family as we navigated problems. Our system included pre-teaching the family certain principle-based skills, such as: how to follow instructions, how to be calm, how to accept disappointment and “no” answers, how to accept corrections, and how to disagree appropriately. We also taught the children all the parenting skills for correcting and teaching so our parenting would follow another principle – predictability.
The following are a few of the simple solutions I created for our family using principles.
- Love — Look into their eyes every time I talk to them and think “I love you” while talking.
- Unity — Have regular meetings as a family to discuss our family relationships and solving family problems. Families also need more time together playing and working to have more unity.
- Justice — Consistently pre-teach, correct, and praise the children so they are held accountable and have more success. They need to have the opportunity to earn negative and positive consequences.
- Work — Work as a family each day, as well as, have the opportunity to do individual work daily.
- Trust — Give instructions, but don’t micro-manage. If they don’t follow through, just do a calm correction.
- Calmness — Make my own calm plan to use if I find myself not feeling calm, and help my children do the same.
- Self-Government — Teach my children cause and effect and how to self-assess and self-correct. This will empower them. This also requires calm teaching.
Principles Make Problem Solving Simple
Modern technologies, with all their conveniences, make parenting and boundaries seem more difficult and may even lead parents to assume they need to get creative in their parenting to handle misuse, addictions, or safety issues. But creativity can be complex and isn’t required. Simplicity and principles are best.
For example: To solve misuse of or addiction to technology remember the principle – roles. What is the role of a child? A child is a learner. This means the child is always learning. What is the role of parent? A parent is a teacher. Everything they do or endorse is encouraging a lesson of some sort. What is the role of a device? It is supposed to be a tool. Once the roles are established the parent can ask themselves, “Is my child using the tool as a tool or as a toy?” and “Is the device teaching my child the things they ought to be learning?” Finally, “As a teacher, should I be endorsing this teaching device and the lessons being learned?” If the answer is no, then the parent must consult another principle – time. “Is this the right time of life for my child to use this tool?” or “How much time is appropriate for device usage if my child is to live a healthy life?” After answering these questions, the parent can feel confident creating boundaries or giving “no” answers about devices.
What about all the attitude problems and emotional walls children are creating in their relationships with their parents? Those may also seem like they need intricate interventions. They don’t. Principles have always worked at solving problems because they are eternal and broadly applicable. Again, the solution is the simple connection and application of principles.
To solve relationship problems, a parent can consider the principles of time, patience, priorities, open communication, trust, roles, honesty, and deliberate planning. Let me explain how I correct relationship problems. First, I would have what I call a parent counseling session with the child. We would talk about what we want our relationship to be like. I would then describe the problem I see with the relationship. Next, we would plan how we will spend more time together to have more open talks while also counseling together about being patient as we get used to the relationship changing. We might also discuss how to course correct if we see our relationship suffering again in the future. Finally, as a parent, I consistently follow through with course corrections and keep the open dialog going. Relying on principles makes it simple.
In 2014, L. Tom Perry said, “Today’s complexity demands more simplicity”. Then, he shared a life lesson from his grandfather that taught him a principle for life. The oldest books and the wisest people teach principles. Historically, those are the sources we have always gone to for answers to our problems. Nowadays the answer to problems is the same. Match your practices with your principles and the solutions become simple, even though the problems are different.
Find Nicholeen’s principle-based parenting skills at https://teachingselfgovernment.com/