Teaching responsibility in our children is one of every parents’ tasks and dilemmas. According to the ‘experts’ there are supposedly specific steps to take in order to properly teach this very important life lesson….however, I believe they forgot to tell the children this little ‘factoid’.
Teaching responsibility in kids is the exact same principle as responsibility in adults.
Responsibility is responsibility. It is a thing, all by itself and the principle remains the same regardless of who is using it. Some think of responsibility as a very specific itemized point of some list of things to be done. However, it is, in fact, a guiding principle of all things. When parents look at teaching responsibility in this way, it honestly becomes a much easier idea to impart to our children.
Responsibility: The opportunity or ability to act independently and make decisions without authorization.
The above definition is my favorite way of looking at responsibility. It is not a specific act, it is the ability to discern and reason a correct behavior and put it into action independently –(without being told). If this is the principle that we use in teaching our children responsibility, the actual actions fall into place where they should. We are not teaching an act, we are teaching a principle; teaching responsibility.
Example to consider
As an example, teaching a child to feed the dogs is a specific act. You can tell them that it is their responsibility to do so, but in their minds, it is more akin to a chore. On the other hand, teaching a child that caring for an animal’s needs because they are dependent on them for their well-being, accomplishes a couple of things. For one, it teaches them ‘the why’ behind ‘the what’ and for two, it gives them ownership in the process. You may be thinking that this is the same thing–the kids feed the dogs–and yes, the task is the same, but the meaning and the lesson behind the task are the most important items to consider.
That certainly doesn’t mean that teaching responsibility is a cookie cutter lesson. All children are different and they all respond to different means and methods of instruction. As a parent, you know your child better than anyone else. You know the ways that they learn; the ways that they respond to instruction as well as to reward and punishment. You have to discern, for each child, which method will work best, but there are certainly a few basics to keep in mind.
- Be a good example. You cannot expect a child to learn the importance of responsibility if they cannot see the same trait in mom and dad. To help fully understand this principle, extrapolate it out to adult life. If your boss at work does not carry out his/her responsibilities, yet demands that you carry out yours, you cannot have respect for that person and you simply learn to see your responsibilities as chores.
- Give them praise for a job well done. As with anyone, regardless of age, children love the acknowledgment of their efforts. It emboldens them to continue on and give every effort.
- Keep it structured and stick to it. Structure and routine are important to children’s lives. It keeps their lives orderly, and it also helps them build routines. If a child knows what their responsibilities are and they know the reward/consequence situation surrounding them, it helps them to keep themselves in check. We are all human, we all have a tendency to do the least at times, especially if there is no real structure. Stick closely to the schedule and it will benefit them in remembering their tasks and keeping themselves on schedule.
An important point to consider
Another note on this topic is concerning reward and punishment. Some experts recommend not rewarding children for keeping up with their responsibilities. I personally take issue with this. I believe in reward for action, but not for reward’s sake. My children have always been taught how important responsibility is throughout life. They have also always been taught specifically what their responsibilities are and why they are so essential to their daily activities.
That being said, my children get rewarded for managing their responsibilities properly and they also get punished for falling down on the job. I feel that this is of the utmost importance because life at home, should mimic adult life, in order to prepare them for being on their own. When you work, you get paid, if you fail to do your work, you get punished, maybe even get fired.
We have recently started a new system, with my youngest ones, and we are all loving it! (All for different reasons, of course) We are using the ‘Mom Bucks’ system these days. You can find information on various ways to run this program all over the place. I did some research and pulled some information together and put it to work for our family.
The gist of it is as follows: I printed and laminated little money — ‘Mom Bucks’. I also created some lists. (I am very big on lists!) The first list is their daily routines; morning, evening, weekend, etc. The second list is additional chores or jobs that they can do or might be asked to do occasionally. For each task, there is a prescribed amount of mom bucks that will be earned. On the third list, there is a page full of expenses. They have to pay for television time and video game time throughout the week. Weekends are free in our house. Family viewing is, of course, also free. There are also other expenses (or fines!) They must pay fines for every infraction such as arguing, fighting, calling names, etc.
Reward and consequence
While my kids have already been taught the importance of responsibility and they already know their own responsibilities, this new system has put a nice reward value on them. It also instills the idea that there are real, tangible consequences to certain actions. Not that they didn’t get consequences before, but being punished in the same way for a long time kind of gets old and maybe loses its value. Now they are keeping up with how much they earn, they are really hating paying fines, and they are saving up for certain larger expense items…ice cream dates, trips to amusement parks, etc. I can see this system teaching my children even more than just responsibility. ***I am loving it!
The real take-away
As a final note on the importance of teaching responsibility to our children, I want, more than anything, for parents to realize that you are not raising children. These wonderful beings are already children. You are raising adults. What you teach them right now, will directly affect the adult that they become. As a mom, I certainly want to make sure that my children have a terrific, happy life, however, my actual job is to prepare them for life as an adult. We only have them for a short time in the big picture, for their own sake, we have to make that time count.
I would love to hear from others on this subject. How do you see your job as a parent? How do you teach your children responsibility? I believe that we can all learn from each other…and that will make us all better!