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You expect quite a lot from your children. It is
not enough they hold the values you see as good; they must also be able to
recognize every situation in which the values apply and to act consistently
with those values. They learn to convert their memorized values into behavior
and actions, to compute a behavior response to a situation consistent with
their values.

Your children of all ages continually go through
the process of computing appropriate and effective behavior to go along with
their values. Occasionally, you become upset because their behavior is
inconsistent with their values. You say, “Why did you do that? You know
better than that.” They say, “I know I should not have done it, but I
did not know what else to do at the time.” You might say, “But you
should have known what to do.” This is, not necessarily true. Your child
would have only known what to do if she had been exposed to a similar situation
in the past and had computed an appropriate or effective response. It may be
this is the first time your child has been confronted by this particular
situation or one similar to it.

Yes, your children do have appropriate values,
but may need some time and experience to figure out what to do in a particular
situation. When your child says he does not know what to do, realize you are
dealing with a difficulty in computing the appropriate behavior. With a novel
situation in particular, he probably cannot figure out a better way of dealing
with it. Respond to this as a learning opportunity and try to help him think of
behavior or responses which might have worked out better. The next time this
type of situation comes up, he then has some experience that increases the
likelihood of a more appropriate response. Perhaps your rule should be your
children are allowed to do most things wrong at least once.

All learning for your children relates directly
to being able to compute behavior and actions in specific situations or under
unusual circumstances. The main thing you can help your children do is slow
down, think things through, and plan ahead. In a value- significant situation,
when children are unsure what to do or how to act, the first step is for them
to calm down. Once they have slowed down, they can think things through. As
part of this process, they should look to the future to see how various actions
might work out. They learn to mentally rehearse various actions and, in their
minds, they learn to anticipate outcomes. Once they are able to do that, they are
in a much better position to decide what behavior is and is not consistent with
their values.

For example, your grade schooler knows she has
more arithmetic problems to do. She can mentally rehearse various alternatives.
One alternative is to play a game on her computer and then get her work done
after she plays a while. As she thinks about it, she can decide whether that is
consistent with her values. Your adolescent can quickly mentally rehearse his
various options as a response to his sense of responsibility when a friend
suggests smoking. There may not be a clear-cut right way to deal with the
problem. Nonetheless, he can briefly look at the options occurring to him and
see how they might turn out. Based on the mental rehearsal, he can choose how
he will deal with it. At a minimum, he can feel comfortable knowing he really
did stop to consider several options and chose the one he thought best, even if
his friend decides to try smoking.

If your child is able to say she really thought
about her options carefully, and chose the one she thought best, she has
remained faithful to her values. This is the real issue with your children. Be
not too harsh nor too critical when their actions are inconsistent with your
values, if they really have made an effort to think things through and have
tried to act consistently with their values. It is unreasonable, nay abusive,
to expect your child always to do what is right and good.

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