If I ask parents what traits they want their children to have now and as adults, one of the main responses is “to be responsible.” We know that responsibility is important to children’s belief in themselves, success both in school and in their adult life.
Parents can often confuse obedience with responsibility. What I mean by this, is in order for children to move from being told (obedience) to choosing (responsibility), we have to relax our adult expectations of time and perfectly completed tasks. When we let our children do things for themselves they feel pride in accomplishment, a sense of responsibility as well as feeling capable. We often underestimate the importance of our children feeling capable. Children feeling they can, hugely contributes to inner self esteem.
Of course we would like our children to do exactly what we ask of them and not question our authority, to be obedient but this doesn't teach responsibility and breaks down our parent child connection.
We often stop our child from having responsibility by doing too much for them; we rescue as we do not want them to feel they have failed. This week my older children and I made an agreement that going forward they would make their own lunchbox for school. One of them decided one morning they didn't want to prepare their lunchbox. In their box they put 2 pieces of bread and one breadstick in for lunch. We had a short conversation around whether she wanted to add more but I was very calm and relaxed when she said no.
Did I rescue her and make it or do a last minute hot dinner order, no!
Was she hungry, yes!
Did she need lots of water that day, yes! 😱
Has she made the same pack lunch since, no!
Responsibility in its most brilliant form, their choice and a natural consequence rather than one we have created. She survived and from her own experience and actions, she decided going forward she wouldn’t do that again. Be conscious when children do take the leap of responsibility and make a mistake, to only empathise and support their solution. ‘Told you so’ is a big no; it makes children feel embarrassed, less connected to you and nervous to take the step of responsibility again. Remember the line, ‘mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn’ or empathise, ‘I’ve done that before’ children love to know we have experienced how they feel.
The challenge arises in knowing when it is appropriate to step in and when it is more effective to let go and give the child space to do things their way. This can really depends on your child, some children really struggle usually because when they’ve tried in the past, they’ve been told, “Hurry up you’re taking ages, what’s wrong with you?” which understandably discourages them for next time. As parents we definitely do too much for our children, things that they can do themselves. We can teach responsibility by showing our children how, allowing extra time initially and not expecting new roles of responsibility to be done perfectly in the beginning. We can break the task down and encourage good effort. Routine charts and family meetings are great for this. Simple tasks, such as dressing, bed making, bag packing, lunchbox making are all possible with a little training. It makes them truly feel, they can!
What can your children try this week?
“Children do not develop responsibility when parents and teachers are too strict and controlling, nor do they develop responsibility when parents and teachers are permissive. Children learn responsibility when they have opportunities to learn valuable social and life skills for good character in an atmosphere of kindness, firmness, dignity and respect.” Doctor Jane Nelson.