How to Teach Your Kids Responsibility

Take Charge on 03.06.12
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The other day, my daughter and I were cleaning house; she was tackling the laundry while I was giving myself a severe case of dishpan hands. And I had a moment, you know, one of those in your life as a parent where you think, "Wow they're growing up fast." That was soon followed by the ever-so-fleeting, "I must be doing something right." But in that moment, the window opened and I thought, "They're going to be okay."

That's really what we worry about as parents, isn't it? That the kids are going to be okay when responsibility comes their way. But teaching that is a big job fraught with questions on how to get them from here to there. I use what I call the three C's: communication, consequences, and consistency.

Communication is obvious. It's also where the train can jump the tracks -- and does in my house. My husband, though a great guy, forgets that our children have to be shown how to do certain things. He forgets for no other reason than he's been doing it so long that it's second nature to him. So when our kids have been given a task, and it's either not completed or not completed correctly, he yells (though not always) whereas I'm more prone to ask why. Did you know the knobs come off the stove so you can wipe underneath? Doesn't it make more sense to wipe off the counter and then do the floor than the other way around? Of course some of it is just them being lazy, which is part of being a teenager, but some of it is that they genuinely weren't aware.

And then there are consequences. I like to break this down into the ones I mete out and those of the natural sort. Part of the communication is making sure they not only know how to do the task but also are aware of what will happen if it's not done. In our home, the consequences range anywhere from grounding to having electronic devices held hostage for a period of time.

But you know what tends to be the most effective? Natural consequences and yes, sometimes that means allowing your children to fail. If my son has a school project and he waits until the last minute to do it, it's probably not going to be as good as if he had put the proper amount of time into it. That will probably be reflected in his grade and in order to make up for that, he may have to stay after school and miss out on some of the fun things happening when everyone else is let out. He will hate that and not want to relive that experience. As a result, he'll plan better (though I may have to prod him a little bit). How do I know this works? Let's just say, I know.

And the last C is consistency. It's also the one I find is hardest to stay on top of. If you say you're going to punish your child for not following through with a task, then you have to stick with it, otherwise you run the risk of undermining your word. So don't tell your teen that you're taking the Wii for the whole month and then cave after 2 weeks. That's a bad precedent to set. Before you hand down the punishment, make sure it's one you can stick with.

How do you impart important information on responsibility to your kids? Is it sinking in with them? And are you a fan of natural consequences?


Photo: bcmom/Creative Commons


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