Raising Responsible Children
When I ask parents what kind of adults they hope their children will grow to be, they often use words like responsible, respectful, and independent. Which is a worthy goal, to be sure. Sometimes, though, we fall into the habit of thinking that we have lots of time to get from here to there – that our kids are only five, or ten, or fifteen, perhaps – and that there’s plenty of time to help them develop into those responsible adults we’re hoping to raise. I would suggest, though, that it’s never too early to start children on a path toward responsibility. When we coach our toddlers into picking up their own toys and putting them back in the basket, we’re helping them to develop responsibility.
What it comes down to, regardless of the age of your child, is that children will not be able to develop responsibility if adults keep doing things for them – things they can, and should, be doing for themselves. While the opposite of having a sense of responsibility may not exactly be a sense of entitlement, doing too much for people tends to lull them into feeling owed what they want and an obligation on the part of others to give it to them. Being taught how to take care of themselves, however, gives children a sense of importance, self-sufficiency, and yes, responsibility that will contribute to success their whole lives.
But there’s no magic to raising responsible children. The same strategies you use to foster courtesy in your children, or respect, or thoughtfulness, will be the same strategies that you can use to foster responsibility.
Train and coach your children into taking care of as much of their own “stuff” as they can be reasonably expected to do. Constantly ask yourself what that outer limit is that your child might be capable of. Provide him with guidance and the proper tools to do the best job possible, then step back and let him do his thing, even if it isn’t perfect.
Don’t bail your kids out if they make a mistake or start to struggle. We often want to spare our kids pain, so that their lives are easier, but this is a big mistake. The lessons learned the hard way are the ones that stick with us longest, and while we shouldn’t be setting our kids up to fail or putting them in positions purposely designed to inflict pain of any kind, it is okay to let them accept the consequences of their choices. Your lectures may go in one ear and out the other, but the fall out that results from something that is entirely of their own doing is not as easily dismissed.
Set a good example. If your children see you walking the talk, it will have a profound impact on how they view their own sense of responsibility. “Do as I say, not as I do” falls flat with kids. By setting a tone of cooperation and “we’re all in this together” around the house, our children will start to feel encouraged by their ability to contribute and play an important role in the running of the household. When they feel that their contribution is valued, and is equally important to the contribution made by everyone else, their ability to be responsible increases.
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