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Ten Ways You Can Promote A Sense Of Responsibility

Apr 18, 2008
Timothy walked into STRONG Learning Center for his tutoring session, but that day he was too distressed to begin his schoolwork. "Every morning I have to wash my face, get dressed, comb my hair, brush my teeth, and eat breakfast," he blurted. "And my mom wants me to feed the cat too! How many chores can a kid do? I probably have more chores than any ten-year-old in the world!"

While Timothy's list of chores may have been reasonable for most ten-year-olds, Timothy was clearly overloaded. Since he had many learning and physical disabilities, taking care of himself in the morning -- doing the "chores" on his list -- was all he could handle. The thought of taking on one additional responsibility, feeding the cat, catapulted him into overload. Without anyone realizing it, this one extra chore upset a delicate balance, which had already begun to take its toll on his schoolwork.

Responsibility is a prerequisite to growth and development; it is also essential to the development of good character and school success. Youngsters with a sense of responsibility to self and to others are more likely to succeed in school than those who do not. Furthermore, as adults, these youngsters are more likely to become assets to their community. In most cases, children who are encouraged to take on age-appropriate chores and responsibilities tend to grow more self-confident, self-reliant, and responsible.

Ten Ways You Can Promote A Sense of Responsibility In Your Children

1. BE A GOOD ROLE MODEL. Your children watch everything you do. If they see you as responsible, they will be more inclined to be responsible.

2. PROVIDE STRUCTURE. You can help your child focus and succeed by creating a structure in which he can succeed. He may agree to do his homework on Sunday, but it will increase the chances of him actually doing the work if he is obliged to add more structure by selecting a specific time on Sunday.

3. HELP YOUR CHILDREN WITH SCHEDULING. By creating lists, tally sheets or charts, your child can monitor her own progress on homework, chores or projects. This will remind her of the jobs she has yet to complete. It will also give her feelings of worth and pride when she sees a task has been completed. This in turn promotes a sense of responsibility and high self-esteem.

The following is a sample of an after-school checklist for a middle-schooler or high-schooler.

√ 3:30-4:30 Snack, watch television (relax and unwind)
√ 4:30-6:00 Do homework (follow assignment book closely)
√ 6:00-7:00 Dinner and chores (decided upon together)
√ 7:00-8:00 Finish homework (if needed); practice drums/karate
√ 8:00-9:00 Call & e-mail friends (everyone needs some fun)

4. AVOID PERFORMING TASKS CHILDREN CAN DO FOR THEMSELVES. You may be surprised at what your child is capable of doing for herself if you allow her to tackle tasks you usually do for her. Parents sometimes continue to tie shoes, button coats or even clean out school backpacks for their children long after the kids are capable of doing such tasks themselves. Generally, the more they do on their own, the higher self-esteem they will have. Paradoxically, in many situations, the less you help your child, the more you help your child.

Once again, it's a fine line parents walk, so take care to gauge how much your child can handle. To help ourselves, even though it is difficult, we should put ourselves into our children's shoes, attempt to see things from their points of view. As in the case of Timothy, sometimes what seems normal to you may seem overwhelming to your child.

5. ALLOW YOUR CHILD TO HELP YOU. Invite him to work along with you to clean the kitchen, straighten up a room, take care of a pet, set the table, dust the furniture, or mow the lawn. He will enjoy helping you and being responsible -- especially if you enjoy his company and remember not to criticize him if he slows you down or does a less-than-perfect job. This works particularly well if you are a bit creative with the tasks. (Remember Mary Poppins?) What child can resist a contest to see who can get the most clean laundry into the appropriate open drawers from across the room?

6. AVOID SETTING STANDARDS THAT YOUR CHILD MAY NOT BE CAPABLE OF ACHIEVING. Do you demand B's or even A's in every subject? Are you telling your thirteen-year-old how important it is to get into an Ivy League college? Then you are running the risk of dooming her to feeling like a failure even if she succeeds, for your expectations may be too specific and too high; or, if she meets those standards, she may be doing so for your benefit, not her own, so her success might not contribute to her self-esteem.

How do you know what your child is capable of? It is very difficult to judge. One way is to observe her as she performs the task in question. Evaluate if she is doing it correctly. If she consistently fails to perform certain tasks, instead of criticizing her, investigate the causes of this failure. Consider seeking ability and/or educational testing for school-related issues. Your child may not be emotionally, socially and/or intellectually developed enough to perform certain tasks, and you may need to change your expectations and/or help her learn strategies.

7. ALLOW ADEQUATE TIME FOR TRAINING. Like adults, children need time -- to learn new things, to do chores, to finish their homework. It takes time to process new information. The youngster who is rushed may follow directions by mimicking what you are doing, but probably will not understand the significance of the task or process the new information. Also, if you feel rushed, you may be applying pressure to your child, and she may become discouraged. So remember that building responsibility takes time.

8. KEEP ENCOURAGING YOUR CHILD. When a child is occasionally discouraged either by the weight of her responsibility or by her failure to be responsible, you can counteract such discouragement by reminding her of her successes in previously performed tasks. For example, if your child calls you at work and says, "I have so much homework, I don't think I can do it all," you may respond, "You know you always come through somehow. Why don't you make a list of everything you need to do. Remember we did that last time you had a lot of homework. Do only one thing at a time, like you did last time. If you get stuck on anything leave it, and Daddy or I will help you when we get home. And, don't become overwhelmed. You always manage. I'm always impressed with how well you handle all this work."

9. EMPHASIZE THE LOGICAL CONSEQUENCES OF IRRESPONSIBLE BEHAVIOR. Once you are certain that your child is capable of performing a task and has had enough time to do so, he needs to experience the consequences (the effects) of irresponsibility (the cause). These consequences should be neither punitive nor abusive.

Let's return, for a moment, to the example about Sunday night homework. Let's assume that in spite of your efforts, your child doesn't do his homework. While it may be tempting for you to do the homework for him out of frustration, this is an unacceptable choice because in effect, all you'll be doing is showing him that he is untrustworthy, and he will learn that he can be irresponsible without any real consequences.

That leaves the choice of letting him experience the consequences of his irresponsibility. For now, simply extricate yourself from the situation and let whatever happens happen -- no yelling, no dirty looks -- just let it be. The consequences for an occasional responsibility-mishap may be minor; he may get away with it, but it is more likely that he will receive a zero for the assignment and possibly fail the next test. His irresponsible behavior may even spin out of control and he may have to experience the heavy hand of logical consequences: he may fail the course and have to make it up in summer or night school, double up next year or be retained. Some children need to see firsthand that they are not invincible, that there are real consequences for irresponsible behavior.

10. HELP YOUR CHILDREN BECOME RESPONSIBLE BY ESTABLISHING RULES THAT ARE FAIR, SENSIBLE AND EASY TO FOLLOW. We all need rules, children and adults alike. They serve as boundaries to establish what is and is not acceptable behavior. Parents begin setting boundaries for their children from the time their children are born. To be effective, the rules need to be well thought out, logical, and fair to all involved.

As a parent, how do you know your rules are conducive to developing a responsible child? Here are some points to consider.

* Be sure your rules make sense. When moms and dads create rules, they have the best intentions. However, sometimes the rules, especially those that were created on the fly, are arbitrary and illogical. Such rules need to be evaluated and modified. This should not be interpreted as caving-in, but as part of a natural, evolving family process.

* Be sure your children understand the logic behind your rules. It is easy for parents, and adults in general, to assume that children understand the logic behind rules. But often they do not. As they are more inclined to obey rules if they understand the logic behind them, it is a good idea to explain to them the rationale behind your rules, and not just say, "Because I said so."

* Be sure that your rules are fair. Children should be part of the rule-evaluation process. Consider their input and adapt the rules as appropriate. Ask yourself if a rule has been established for your child's benefit or for your convenience. Also, how do you know if rules are too strict or too lax? The answer is simple: your children will let you know by their behavior. For example, they may act out, become defiant, cry or become sad. When that happens, talk to them about it, and see if you can arrive at a solution that will be both effective and fair.

* When your child breaks a rule, find out why! Sometimes parents and teachers punish children for breaking rules without first looking into the reasons why they broke them. They may say, "Why'd you do that?" He may be so intimidated that he can't think of saying anything more than, "I don't know." Then the parent will punish and say, "Well, next time you'll know." Needless to say, this is an ineffective way to respond to the breaking of a rule.

* Try to avoid pulling rank. One of the most difficult parts of this rule-establishing business is avoiding the temptation to pull rank as in: "I'm the parent, so I can do whatever I want." Or: "This is my house so you'll do as I say." While this may be appropriate in some areas, in others it creates a double standard, which sets the stage for big family problems.

* Keep monitoring your rules. As conditions change, so should some rules. For example, a "no food in the living room rule" may make sense when a child is two, but it needs to be revisited as the child grows older. As a parent, you need to reevaluate your rules from time to time to make sure they continue to make sense.

In conclusion, as responsibility is essential to the development of good character and school success, it is wise for parents to give thought to how they can facilitate the process. If your goal is to have an educated, responsible, well-adjusted child, your whole family needs to work together, sometimes making sacrifices, to achieve that goal. Will it be easy? No. But it will be well worth your time and energy.
About the Author
Linda Bress Silbert, Ph.D. and Alvin J. Silbert, Ed.D. are the founders/directors of STRONG Learning Centers in New York. They've written over 40 books and developed 20 phonics games for children of all ages. To learn more about the Silberts and the STRONG Method, visit their website Our Educational Books. To subscribe to their free e-zine, send a blank email to: subscribe@StrongLearning.com.
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