How is it that some of us can work so hard to build responsible and respectful children and have the opposite unfold? We model healthy and responsible behavior. We get up every morning, take care of the business of running a home and a family. And yet, our children show few signs of “getting it”.
By this, I mean that they just don’t seem to accept responsibility for their mistakes. They seem unable to take responsibility for “their stuff” and they show no signs of wanting the responsibility that comes with the freedom of adolescence.
Good Parent Examples Are Not Enough.
When it comes to building responsible habits in our children, there is one truth that you must come to accept. It’s not enough just to be a good role model. Most of us do a good job showing our children how to be responsible. This is not the problem. The problem occurs because many of us take too much responsibility.
How Can We Take Too Much Responsibility?
The growing tendency for parents to take more and more responsibility for their children. We sprint home to locate their missing homework or soccer shoes and arrive late to work so that they don’t feel any loss. We stay up late losing sleep and peace of mind while working on that school project with them. Knowing that they spent hours playing and ignored the project. We let them keep their room a mess until we clean it up rather than teaching them to take responsibility for their environment. We will cart them to three different events on Saturday so that they have fun and activity while never asking them to help out around the house. Yet, we end up with no time to enjoy our weekend because we are constantly going here and there.
In the extreme, we will take responsibility for helping our son or daughter get through their homework even when they take virtually no responsibility to get it done. Each of these situations suggests a nightmare in the making.
Bottom line: We often end up working harder at their responsibilities than they do. For some of us, we can easily notice this right. You work harder and harder at their life responsibilities and they seem to become lazier and lazier in many areas where you want them to take responsibility.
Here’s the Rule to Remember!
Children and adolescents learn about responsibility by having opportunities to be responsible. If we make the mistake of taking their age-appropriate responsibilities, then we rob them of learning opportunities.
Studies in human behavior show that we tend not to learn about being responsible from lectures and discussions. Instead, we learn about being responsible from opportunities to take responsibility and the consequences that come with these choices. Either we step off and learn to take responsibility or we don’t. The actual teacher, however, is not the responsibility itself but the consequence that comes from the choice to be responsible.
When we keep our children from these opportunities to “step up” and take responsibility, we rob them of the chance to learn critical life lessons about responsibility. We teach them to be irresponsible. We do not intentionally end up teaching them that they can have all the “goodies” that come from irresponsible life without having to take responsibility. This is a dangerous path to find your child walking down and the time to change that is right now.
Give your child chances to take responsibility and teach the lessons of responsibility with consequences that follow from healthy, responsible choices.
In my next article, we will discuss more the critical role of consequences – not words – in teaching children the importance of responsible daily actions.