Live and Learn
Responsibility and how to teach it
by Neil Amas, Panyaden School Director
When we see that our child is not being responsible, we can easily forget that children actually love to feel responsible! Most young children feel very proud when they have helped mum or dad. But that often seems to change as they get older and as parents, we can get very frustrated. How do we encourage responsibility in our children? Here are 10 parenting tips:
- Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, as parents we need to hand it over! Most children do not want to be doted on because, like the rest of us, they need to feel that they matter in the world and that they can make a positive contribution. Children need our help sometimes, but when we constantly dote on them they not only start to expect to have things done for them, we risk rendering them helpless, reducing their confidence. If we always clear the table after meal times, we shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t think it’s their job to help. The golden rule: don’t do for your child what he can do for himself!
- Draw the lines of responsibility. Be clear to your child that for some things he has full responsibility, for some you have responsibility, and for some things you share responsibility. These lines must change as she gets older and is able to take on more. If necessary, these can be written down and stuck on the fridge door. Write them together.
- Focus on empowering your child. Rather than a list of tasks that he ‘should do’, consider things which help him take charge of his life and then assist him in learning the necessary skills so that he actually wants to step into the new responsibility. Saying things like, ‘By now you should be able to tidy away your own toys’ leads to power struggles. If you worked out with him the areas of his life that he is fully responsible for managing, you already have a list of responsibilities he will be happy to assume.
- Avoid orders and instead try to make your child part of agreements on things like screen time. Ask ‘How much screen time do you think is reasonable each day (or week)?’ then agree on a sensible limit and have your child monitor the time herself. Stick to the agreement. When she feels trusted she is more likely to feel responsible.
- Encourage him to think for himself. Instead of, ’Don’t forget your PE shoes! Brush your teeth!’ you could ask, ‘What’s the next thing you need to do to get ready for school?’ The goal is to keep your child focused on their list of things to do, morning after morning, until they internalize it and begin managing their own morning tasks.
- Expect her to clean up after herself but don’t nag! When your toddler spills her drink, say ‘That’s ok. We can clean it up. We always clean up our messes’, as you hand her a cloth and pick one up yourself. By avoiding judgment or getting annoyed and by staying cheerful, our child is less likely to get defensive and will eventually be happy to clean up after herself. Lending a hand also models what we would like her to do when we make a mess!
- Make the job fun! At the start you may need to do chores together and it’s important that you communicate that there is a joy in doing chores and a satisfaction to be had from getting a job done. This is Chanda, one of the Panyaden Wise Habits. If you see chores as a drag, so will he.
- Teach a responsible attitude towards relationships. Forcing a child to apologize when he doesn’t mean it can lead to resentment and teaches him that he doesn’t have to mean what he says. Helping him to think of a way to make things better between him and his friend teaches him that he is responsible for fixing the hurt he has caused, while giving him some choice on how to do it increases his confidence and the likelihood he’ll act responsibly next time.
- Avoid blame! When we blame, our child will find any kind of reason to say it wasn’t his fault. Blaming is the number 1 reason why children lie to their parents. If you accept the situation as it is without pointing the finger, you are more likely to encourage a household where everyone shares responsibility. Instead of ‘Who left the fridge door open AGAIN?’ try, ‘I see the fridge door is open. Let’s make sure we keep it closed so that the food doesn’t go off.’
- Last but not least….Model it! If you run a red light or park in the bay reserved for elderly people, you are definitely not teaching responsibility!