The more we preach to our kids the less they absorb. How many times have you had to bug your child to remember their backpack? Or do to their homework? Or to clean their room? Now, how often do you do it for them instead of allowing them to deal with the problem? While we may feel like we are helping, or protecting them from experiencing some kind of suffering (bad grades, etc), we are actually preventing them from a learning experience, gaining responsibility, and taking care of their own problems.
We can preach all we want, but responsibility cannot be taught. Responsibility is something that needs to be learned, practiced, and developed. Allowing children from a young age to learn this important part of life sets them up for more success as they grow.
Here are sevenways to help our kids grow to be responsible:
- Consequences from actions teach responsibility. It may seem counter to our parenting instincts, but we shouldn’t protect our children from struggles. Protect them from danger, yes. But we need to let our kids struggle when they are young and the price tag is low. As they grow, the price tag becomes larger and more dangerous. Children need to learn the cause and effect of choices and decision making. (Read more on this here.) The quality of our life depends on our ability to make wise choices. The more unwise choices and consequences a child experiences, the better equipped they are to make wise choices. We need practice making sad choices to gain the ability to make wise choices. And remember the always important point, meet your child with love and empathy when they make a sad choice and must deal with consequences. We want our children to make affordable mistakes while they are young and the price tag is lower.
- Kids need practice. There are many opportunities for kids to practice responsibility. If a parent is worried about their kid’s homework, the child may not be. Constantly reminding your child to do their homework covertly tells them they aren’t good enough to remember. A good action step for this one is, “You’re welcome to watch TV when your homework is finished.” Or, “I’ll be happy to drive you to baseball practice when your homework is finished.”
- Model responsibility. Our kids look to us for cues on how to navigate the world. Show them you take care of yourself. Show them you remember everything you need for work. Show them how you plan for the next day. Things like responsibility cannot be taught; they must be caught.
- Hand their problems back to them. Children who have to deal with their own problems are in a better position to solve the problems themselves. They know no one will solve their problems for them, so they know it is their job. When they are able to handle their own problems, they feel better about themselves and grow in responsibility. The small problems of childhood are good practice for the big problems of adulthood. Consult your kids, but do not prevent them from solving their own problems. (To read more on being a Consultant with your kids read this post, “Could you ever be THAT parent?”) A great action statement for this is, “What a bummer. What do you think you can do to solve this problem?”
- Make them feel important. Doing chores/contributions to the family should make them feel like a useful part of the family. Some families pay for some chores and others don’t. Find what works for your family. But, there should be some things kids have to do to be part of the family. Often, when kids don’t have to do things around the house, they can become entitled. Kids need responsibilities to feel responsible. Members of the family help each other out and work together to make life family run smoothly. (You can read more about contributions here and whether or not to pay kids for chores here). Teaching your child to work is great for them. We need to raise kids who are prepared to be capable and strong adults.
- Instead of lecturing, ask questions. When we use lots of words and lecture, kids tend to tune out. But when we ask questions, we stimulate their thinking. We set our kids up for more success when we create situations where they can think things out themselves. We can ask them if they want our help, but allowing them to consider their options helps them practice decision making and it opens conversation. Be loving, considerate, and empathetic. Action statements for this would include, “What do you think about the problems you’re having with your friend?” “What do you think could happen if you don’t chain your bike up at school?” “What do you think will happen if you don’t do your homework?” “What are some consequences of not doing your chores/contributions?” After asking questions, listen to what they are saying. Let them know you hear them. Ask, “How do you think that would work out for you?” This is a great Love and Logic® resource.
- Work on their self-worth. A child who feels good about themselves and sees their value is more likely to work hard. When we focus on their strengths and natural gifts, don’t focus on the end result (but instead on the learning process), and pursue time with them, our kids self-worth will increase. (You can read more on building your child’s self-worth here, and more on not focusing on the end result here). Kids who have a high self-worth typically do not have the problems with friends and school that kids with low self-worth have. They believe in their abilities because they know they have value, are capable, and are loved regardless of if they win.
- How do you think these would work for your family?
- What are some ways you have helped your kids grow to be responsible?
- Do you find any of these ideas harder than others?
- What else needs to be “caught” not “taught?”
By: Emily Scott, PhD
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