‘Don’t Smile Until Christmas’: How to Raise Independent & Responsible Children

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gilabrown110BY GILA BROWN, M.A.

Many years ago, at the start of my first year of teaching, I was given this advice:  “Don’t smile until Christmas.” Smiling was considered a rookie move and the ‘best’ teachers managed to maintain their poker face for at least a full semester.  The fear was that, should we let on to our kids that we were friendly, easy-going people, they would take advantage and we would lose control of our classes.  Ironically, the teacher’s solution to overcoming that fear was to pass on the fear to the students by way of threats and visits to the principal’s office.

Authoritarian rule, however, is just not my style.  I felt sure that, if I treated my students with respect and compassion, they would reciprocate.  As it turns out, I was partially right.  About half of my students really thrived with that approach.  They felt free to ask questions, work independently, and connect with others (and myself) in a comfortable and authentic way.  Most importantly, they took responsibility for themselves and their learning.  However, the other half of the class did, in fact, “take advantage”.  A more accurate description, however, would be that they simply did not know how to respond in any other way.  So what was the difference?

The students who were given more freedom at home had learned how to make use of it in productive ways.  They were more comfortable with their authentic selves and they trusted their own decision-making.  For them, more freedom meant more room to explore the world around them and become increasingly independent.  For the other group, more freedom meant an opportunity to have power.  These were kids who had been conditioned to behave well only when it was required of them.  When there was no threat of punishment, there was no reason to behave.  This is a direct result of that authoritarian rule by which so many parents and teachers swear. 

The traditional approach of scaring kids into behaving is shortsighted and ineffective.  While the immediate result is that our children appear to be doing well, they are not developing the skills to do well independently.  If we want our children to become responsible, independent, and respectful, we need to model those traits now.  We need to treat them with respect and afford them opportunities to test their own independence.  We all learn to make good decisions by making decisions.  Encourage your children to develop these skills now so that they can hold their own even in the absence of authorities, threats and punishments.

Gila Brown, M.A. is a Child Development Expert and Parent Coach, with over 10 years of teaching experience.  She specializes in parenting school-age children with grace, using principles of attachment parenting, positive disciple and effective communication. Print Visit www.GilaBrown.com to sign up for a free newsletter.




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Fall 2009 (October 5 – December 16)

 Are you tired of the parenting struggle?  Do you wish your kids were more cooperative? This is going to be an insightful and interactive program where you’ll receive life-changing tools that you can start using immediately to create the relationship you truly want with your kids. 

Join a select group of parents for a 6-session workshop series, focusing on positive discipline and effective communication for school-age kids.  In order to maintain the intimacy of the group, class size is very limited. 

 In this workshop, you will obtain some of the most effective and powerful parenting secrets.

  • Learn to develop and trust your own instincts regarding your children’s development and behavior
  • Understand what causes children’s behavior, both positive and negative
  • Stop Yelling- Start Communicating: Get effective communication tools so that your kids will want to listen
  • Learn to decode your child’s disruptive behavior, so that you can minimize it
  • Get discipline techniques that are effective and productive
  • Learn techniques for raising independent, responsible and self-directed children
  • Have a safe and supportive community to discuss whatever current issues arise for you


Where: Classes are being offered in Studio City, CA and in Westwood, CA (specific locations TBA)

When: Alternating Tuesday evenings from 7:00-9:00 PM (6 sessions)

How Much: $110  

All it takes to start getting results is a willingness and a commitment to make some changes.  If you have any questions or are ready to register for the workshops, please contact Gila Brown at (310) 497-7461 or GilaBrown@me.com.   Visit www.GilaBrown.com .

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.