Every parent wants to know that they have equipped their child for the real world. It is a big responsibility but one that is well worth the effort. And that is what we are talking about here – responsibility. We want to teach our children to one day become contributing members of society.
How would you define responsibility? When it comes to our kids, some might include the following:
- Learning to do what is right
- Taking care of themselves
- Making good decisions
- Lending a helping hand
- Learning to be financially savvy
- Making a difference with their lives
Yes, it is a tall order, but not one that has to be learned overnight. In fact, teaching kids to be responsible will take several years. You’ve got at least eighteen. So, relax and take the time to do it right.
In this article you will learn about ways to teach your child to be a responsible person at every stage of their life. It will incorporate the ways listed above. There will also be a mention of how to go about it, especially when it seems like they aren’t getting the message. There will be tough lessons for them to learn, but it is better that they do it while they are under your guiding hand than when they are out in the real world alone.
There is no skill too big or too small to be taught to your child. It does take a village to raise a child but the buck stops with you. Be the guiding force that your children need to shape their life for the better.
They will make mistakes, but cheer up – we all do. Hopefully it will lead to the beginning of understanding.
FOSTERING POSITIVE BEHAVIOR
Take It Easy
We as humans have a tendency to say the first thing that comes to our minds. You too? When it comes to our kids, the words that are meant to teach can actually backfire. Here are some guidelines to help you use positive reinforcement to get kids to take an interest in doing the right thing.
Be realistic – It’s not easy to teach kids. They are a blank slate and don’t have any reference to go by when you are first beginning the lessons. That is why it is so important to start small and build up to more advanced tasks. Each child learns at a different rate. Work within your child’s strengths and weaknesses.
Avoid negatives – When you say ‘You are not being very responsible’, the object is to shock your kids into turning things around. Instead, however, they often begin to display the very characteristics that you don’t want to see – irresponsibility. Children have not learned who they are as individuals yet. Negative comments can ingrain themselves in their mind and become how they see themselves. If you think they are careless, they will believe that is how they are to act.
Focus on what they are doing right – No one is perfect, including your kids. If they load the dishwasher but you discover that it was only half full at the end of the cycle, still complement them on completing their chores and helping you out. Even if they grudgingly did it, in time, they will begin to take pride in helping and do the job with a better attitude.
Be a parent and not a friend – Kids will begin to listen to their friends instead of you soon enough. While you have their attention, take full advantage. Tell them what they need to know, not what they want to hear. Set consequences for poor behavior and follow through so they learn that side of responsibility as well. There will be time for friendship when you are both adults.
Offer a good example – If you want your kids to keep their word to others but you are always making excuses and backing out, they will become confused. Their behavior will mimic yours instead of what you want to teach them.
AGE-APPROPRIATE SKILLS TO TEACH YOUR KIDS
What to Teach
Your child is never too young to learn. In fact, as soon as they are born they are processing their environment at every turn. Different stimuli and experiences are creating new pathways in the brain – memories.
From the time a child can walk, talk and begin to interact with their environment, you can set to teaching them the following life skills:
- Community service
- Consequences of actions
- Thinking for themselves
Let’s break this down into different age groups so you can get an idea of what is appropriate for your child and when.
This child is aged two to four. They are able to walk, talk and understand. Here are examples of skills to work with now.
Hygiene – Begin teaching potty training. Girls are usually easier than boys with this task, but don’t give up. Reward them when they get it right and continue to work on what they are missing. Also, teach them to brush their teeth and to wash their hands when appropriate.
Chores – If they can play with toys then they are capable of putting them back in the proper place afterwards. This doesn’t have to be limited to toys. They can place dirty clothing in the hamper when they undress.
Moderation – Set a schedule for television watching, playing, napping and other daily activities. Even if they want to continue longer at one thing, move them on to the next activity to get them used to dividing up their time throughout the day. This will be important when they reach school age.
Your child is ready for school. They will begin to use skills that you have taught them as well as learning new ones from classmates and teachers. With the new influences, it will be a good idea to reinforce what they are learning at home.
Hygiene – Kids play together and can easily pass germs. Teach them to wash their hands after sneezing, using the bathroom and playing. Children will also be aware enough of their bodies to learn to dress themselves in the morning.
Chores – As they are attending school, show what they need to have ready for school each day. Again reinforce putting things in the appropriate place: toys, dishes after a meal, clothing and the like. Use a picture chart with stars to mark when they have completed something. Making it fun keeps kids interested in helping around the house.
Consequences – Kids at this age are self-absorbed. When you teach them a skill like sharing or cleaning, set consequences if they don’t perform their chores. It could be missing their nightly show or going to bed early. Discipline leads to an understanding of right and wrong. If they act inappropriately, point out the problem right away so they associate the discipline with the behavior.
Community service – Volunteer at a homeless shelter; teach kids to recycle; let them help at a car wash to raise money. They get to see the world operating outside of their everyday life. You can use this opportunity to teach how to help others unselfishly.
School Age Children
Your child is in elementary school now and is gaining a better sense of self. Children this age are also able to handle chores that are written down or verbally assigned to them. Friends are becoming of greater importance to them.
They will begin to see other ways of doing things. This can spawn family talks which are important at this stage for their emotional development. Talk through your expectations for them and their feelings, and help them to become emotionally stable which is a mark of a responsible person.
Hygiene – Boys especially can get slack at this stage – wearing the same clothes day in and day out or trying to avoid baths. Encourage them to keep to a routine. Taking a bath at night before bed gives them the time to focus on that task alone and also helps them establish a nightly routine.
Money – Kids are aware of clothes, toys, electronics and other things that they want. Discuss a weekly allowance and what they have to do to earn that allowance (keep good grades, be respectful, perform extra chores). They are probably learning about money in school, so you can reinforce that by discussing counting and also saving money at home. Give them a piggy bank or a plastic jar to put extra change. At the end of each month see how much they have managed to save.
Chores – As kids age, they can handle more advanced chores like loading and unloading the dishwasher, vacuuming the floor, sweeping, and helping with cooking. They can even pack their own lunch each day (learning about healthy food choices). Include keeping their room clean in this age group.
Good examples – Set a good example for kids to follow, especially emotionally. Encourage talks about difficult topics: puberty, feelings for the opposite sex, choosing friends, owning up to mistakes, and dealing with consequences of actions. They learn from watching you, so understand what you believe about these topics before discussing it with them.
Community service – Your child is too young to have a job outside the home, but they can learn about volunteering and getting involved in their neighborhood and surrounding community. The dividends are worth far more than cash at this point.
Your child is bordering on preteen now and things can get scary. If you have begun with a good foundation up until now, then they (and you) have a fighting chance of surviving the next nine or ten years together unscathed. Important issues at this age include peer pressure, sex, drugs, self-esteem, positive self-expression and learning commitment.
Chores – With so many other activities, making time for chores can be hard, but don’t let them go without continuing to help around the house as a part of the family. They can learn chores that carry more skill like mowing the lawn, washing clothes, cleaning bathrooms and cooking certain meals.
Money – Their tastes are more expensive and sophisticated. If they want money they have to earn it and also learn to save for what they want. Teach them that with an allowance, they are expected to buy their ‘want’ items while you will agree to buy their needs like school clothing and food if they eat at home.
Moderation – Set boundaries. In the past they may have had a set bedtime that has to be observed, but now they will want to hang out with friends. You may allow them a cell phone or a music player like an iPod, but also teach them that these things come with guidelines for use. Another thing to consider: keep the computer centrally located so you can monitor their online time.
Hygiene – As they enter puberty, it becomes more important for them to learn how their body works and also how to respond to it. For girls, this means menstruation. Discuss the process before it happens so they are prepared. Also talk about perfumes, hair care, skin care and communicable diseases like HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.
Consequences – We want to protect our kids from harm and hurt but sometimes it is good for them to feel it so they can learn how to cope with their feelings and also their actions. Determine ahead of time what the consequences will be for certain actions (not doing homework, poor grades, lying, coming in late, and the like). Inform your kids in a family meeting so everyone is on the same page. Uphold just school punishments for poor behavior there.
Commitment – When you give your word to do something, it is your bond. Someone else is counting on you. Changing your mind is not always a good option. Hold your kids to their commitments to you and to others. It can teach them not to be so hasty in making commitments in the first place – a good lesson to learn.
You might think that you won’t survive these years, but you will. Your kids are on the cusp of adulthood. Sometimes they will want to sit in your arms like a little child again and other times they will want to make all of their decisions alone as if you don’t know anything. Choose your battles wisely here so that they are still learning but also taking more responsibility for themselves.
Money – They are now old enough to get a job. Discuss with them the type of job, how it will affect school grades and extracurricular activities. Jobs are important but so is learning to achieve balance without being overloaded.
Chores – Even though they are spending a lot of time out of the house, they are still a part of the family, and daily or weekly chores are reiterated for this reason.
Good examples – Kids are ready to learn to drive. Stay calm. Set guidelines for driving the car, having friends in the car and curfew. Driving is a big responsibility and needs to be treated as such. Hundreds of kids die each year in preventable car accidents. Also, keep the lines of communication open with your kids. Studies show that eating family meals can reduce the incidence of illicit behaviors in children.
Consequences – Kids can experiment with all sorts of different things at this age: friends, clothing, opposite sex and unhealthy behaviors. Draw the line and make it clear: they will be held accountable for breaking the rules. They may say that they hate you for bringing the hammer down on them, but shielding them can have a far worse effect in the future. Kids not held to consequences can act recklessly in life without regards to the feelings of others.
Moderation – At an age when self-esteem is paramount, teaching kids to eat healthy and stay physically active can go a long way to improving how they see themselves. Encourage them to embrace their looks and accept their differences without trying to change them into who you want them to be. Teaching acceptance and tolerance extends to their relationships with others.
Commitment – Keeping your word is linked to what people will think of you. Whether it is on the sports field, at their job, in a relationship or at home, commitments are to be honored. This one may take time, but they learn with each new experience even if it is not positive.
We want our kids to change the world. It all starts at home at a very young age with lessons that teach various aspects of responsibility. They won’t always do everything right but you can still encourage them through positive reinforcement and being the parent that they need instead of the friend that they want.
We have discussed easy ways to begin to implement your lessons. Start small and build to bigger ones. Keep your sense of humor and the big picture of their lives that they can’t see yet.
Recommended Handbooks for Parenting Responsible Kids
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