I am frequently asked for evidence that internal control psychology/choice theory is effective. It’s a fair question. After all, if what I espouse doesn’t help us get to a better place, why would anyone want to learn about it and apply it?
When I do parents workshops, I generally ask parents what they want for their kids. Their comments vary slightly, but all parents want their kids to be successful. Interestingly, the things most parents want for their kids have now been researched as part of an impressive longitudinal study. Research headed by Duke University’s Avshalom Caspi followed 1000 children for 32 years in Dunedin, New Zealand.
Consider the following descriptors of success: academic success, positive peer relationships, health, wealth, and happiness. The factor the researchers found most essential for success (defined in all those ways) was the ability to develop self-control.
For those of us who teach internal control psychology/choice theory, this is an affirming piece of significant research. The carrot and stick, external control approach to raising kids overtly attempts to control children. While the intent is clearly benevolent, the parental imperative is, “I need to control my child’s behavior.” This notion is woven into the vernacular. How many of us have heard (or said) about parents whose children are behaving poorly, “Can’t they control their kids?”
You can try to control your kids if you want, but if your goal is to help them be successful, the research clearly suggests that you’d be better off helping them develop self-control. The best way to do that is to apply the principles of internal control psychology/choice theory. Help your kids develop a sense of responsibility. Help them learn to routinely evaluate their behavior. Allow them to experience failure and to learn from their mistakes. (Note: This is not the same as punishing them!) Parents who move toward internal control psychology/choice theory and give up practices designed to externally control their children are giving them the best chance to become the successful adults they want them to be.
What do you want for your kids?
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