Do you present on mindfulness? resiliency? self-regulation? empathy? These are common questions I’m often asked, and my answer is usually the same, “Yes…ish.” Although I don’t tackle the issues directly, I do address the underlying concern. The topics requested all have one important commonality – an internal focus. When faced with challenges, we want our children to look inward and use their consciences to make good choices.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to condition a child to have an internal locus of control when so many structures are in place stressing the external. From the opinion of others, (What will they think?) to the need for outside entertainment, (I’m bored!), to our behavioral management systems, (If you finish that, I’ll give you time on the iPad.) kids habitually rely on external factors to guide their decisions. This is a problem.

Parents, one way to shift this tide is by guarding against a hyper-focus on rewarding and punishing. Rather, concentrate on regular discussions, problem-solving, and goal-setting as the primary means of helping your children make choices. External consequences and intermittent reinforcements can still factor into the equation, but they should not be where we invest most of our time and energy. All children have internal motivational compasses; we just need to do a better job of helping our kids tap into them.