Raising Responsible Children
What is the ultimate goal with parenting? Is it to raise individuals who do what their parents say, behave properly, conform to their parents rules, and contribute to society out of duty? Although all of these outcomes are good in theory, they lack the correct motivation behind them. Dr. William Sears suggests, the goal with parenting is to enable our children to live without us. It is paradoxical. The goal is to see our children become confident, responsible, self-sufficient, and interdependent individuals with values that guide them throughout life. This means we guide our children in their decision making process, enabling them to become self-motivated, with an understanding that they are part of a greater social system and their decisions affect others--this is what it means to become a responsible member of society.
Raising responsible children begins with infancy and continues until adulthood. There are key factors which help build a sense of responsibility in children throughout various stages--Infants, Toddlers, Primary School, Teenagers. The learning from each stage builds upon the previous one, until your child has reached independence and self-sufficiency. Although this is a general guideline, be sensitive to your child's learning and development, some may grow faster, while others take a bit longer. Remember, you as a parent are the facilitator of this learning. Your ultimate goal is to enable them to become a confident, self-sufficient, interdependent person.
According to Dr. Sears, the earliest lessons in responsibility come from parents who are responsive to their children's needs. "Parents who respond appropriately to their children are likely to raise responsible kids. Why? Responsiveness becomes the norm for these children, teaching them that people should treat others in a responsible way." Ironically, it is the infants' dependency which lays the groundwork for future self-sufficiency. When you respond to your baby's cries, you are affirming their feelings and needs, ultimately teaching them to trust in oneself. This trust becomes the foundation of being trustworthy later in life. Being responsive to your child's needs shows them their voice and actions are important.
Toddlers have a growing awareness of self and independency. Wise parents allow their toddlers to practice their emerging skills as much as possible in a safe environment. Your role as a parent is to function as a facilitator, you set up the situation so your child can learn and make things happen. Encouraging your child to try new things, fall down (safely), and get back up and try again is a lesson in responsibility. Toddlers are learning how to manage their own bodies--sitting, crawling, walking, running, jumping, feeding themselves, brushing teeth, potty training, etc... You can't force your child to learn these skills, you can create the setting for your child to learn. Experimentation is key. They will make messes. They will have accidents. It is important we remain positive, encouraging, and supportive throughout each moment of learning responsibility and independence.
Toddlers - Primary School
"Teach them early, then trust them later," says Dr. Sears. The hard work you put forth in guiding your childrenwill pay off later. From toddlers to teenagers, there are key elements which help create a sense of responsibility. Those include chores and responsibilities, accountability, and life-management skills. The tasks, expectations, and skills vary according to age and build upon previous learning with each new stage.
Chores & Responsibilities
Each member of the family needs chores and responsibilities. Chores help develop a sense ofsignificance as part of the family 'team.' Responsibilities help children feel useful and needed, and will help them take care of their own home one day. Sharing in responsibilities facilitates accountability, self-confidence and helpfulness. According to Dr. Sears, household responsibilities help to:
- Create a sense of ownership, attachment and thus respect for the home.
- Encourage skill development and lifetime learning opportunities.
- Teach accountability for and consequences of their actions.
- Equip them to live and work with others after they leave home.
- Foster a sense of accomplishment and pride.
- Teach interdependence and belonging within a bigger system.
- Teach that everyone is expected to contribute to the well-being of the family.
How do you divide the tasks and responsibilities?
Here are some things to consider:
- Activities according to their age and stage:
- Ages 1-2: Scrub with water, use sponges/brushes, rinse dishes, clean sinks/tubs, dusting
- Ages 3-4: Sorting laundry into dark/lights, vacuuming, sweeping, setting the table
- Ages 5-6 Start washing the dishes, loading/unloading the dishwasher, washing the car
- Ages 7-8: Start cooking or helping prepare one meal a week, helping select groceries
- Ages 9-10: Mow the lawn, help fix things around the house
- What the child is already interested in and match the chores to the child.
- Give special jobs to each child.
- Create job charts, letting them choose tasks, and rotate if they want.
- Plant a family garden, learning to sow, water, pull weeds, and harvest.
- Do jobs along with your children, work side by side, together.
Learning to be accountable for your actions is is an important part of one's development. When a child is held accountable for their actions, they are learning that their behaviour has consequences, both for themselves and others. They learn what it means to depend on one another, through interdependency. Being accountable is an important aspect of belonging to a family, a social group, and a community.
How do you teach accountability?
- Establish simple family rules for the safety and benefit of everyone.
- Teach children to take responsibility for their actions early on.
- Don't accept irresponsible excuses, excuses are a sign of immaturity.
- Establish routines so children remember how and when to do tasks.
- Expect them to be accountable for the consequences of their mistakes.
- Praise and encourage right behaviour.
The goal of parenting is to teach your children to live without you, which includes teaching them skills to manage their lives--both present and future. These skills include, but are not limited to: thinking and planning ahead, managing finances, time-management resources, organisational skills, and every day skills. As a parent, you have a very important role of teaching and modelling life-management skills that will help your children become responsible adults.
How do you teach important life-management skills?
- Teach children to think and plan ahead.
- Teach them to wait and have patience.
- Instill a long-term perspective.
- Equip them to make sacrifices in the present for a better future.
- Help them create a plan to earn money and save for a big item they want.
- Teach children about managing finances.
- The importance of saving.
- How to spend money responsibly.
- The importance of staying out of debt.
- The importance of giving.
- How to plan for retirement.
- Teach time-management and organisational skills, depending on age and personality.
- Weekly/Monthly calendar on the wall
- Daily planner book
- To-do lists
- With more privileges come greater responsibilities.
- As your child grows older, their responsibilities grow.
- As they are given more privileges, you expect them to be more responsible.
- Privilege: Walking to/from park alone. Responsibility: Be home at promised time.
- Equip children with life skills.
- You have opportunities to teach your children life skills nearly every day, involve them in age-appropriate tasks.
- These tasks include: cooking, sewing, changing a lightbulb, fixing things around the house, changing a tire on the car, unclogging the drain, etc...
- Model responsibility.
- How you view your own responsibilities has an affect on how your children live up to their responsibilities.
- Focus on the positive aspects of your job, so your children come to see responsibility as a normal part of adult life.
Parents can probably agree that the most important goals of childhood are healthy development and education. What about work? According to Dr. Sears, studies show that employment during teenage years has both negative and positive effects. Consequently, there are a number of factors to consider when it comes to teenagers and work. You need to find out why they want to work, why should they work, how does work impact their current studies, what kinds of jobs they should have, and how many hours should they work.
Why do they want to work?
Parents need to determine the right reasons for working and check their motives behind working:
- Is it to save long-term, for a car or university studies?
- Is it to learn life skills?
- Is it to have personal spending money to satisfy the need for materialistic things?
- Is it to gain independence?
Work together with your child to determine if their motives are right and discuss the importance of saving and planning for long-term, not just short-term, instant gratification purposes.
Why should they work?
There are several benefits with teenagers who experience a positive work environment:
- gain skills and training
- learn productivity in society
- learn interpersonal skills and how to work in a team
- work with problem-solving skills
- experience the importance of punctuality and time-management
- gain customer service skills
- learning budget and money management
- productive use of time vs. unproductive use of free time (screen time, gaming, shopping)
How does work impact their current studies?
The reality is, when a teenager spends time at work, they will have less time for studies. According to Dr. Sears, students who work more than 20 hours per week have high levels of stress and decreased investment in their studies. However, studies show that students working between 15-20 hours per week have higher grade point averages compared to non-working peers. Discuss the importance of time management, right priorities, and a healthy work-life balance.
What kind of job should they have?
The type of job affects the risks and benefits of working. Consider these factors:
- Does the job have proper safety training and supervision?
- Could there be any long-term physical risks of the job?
- Does my child have proper judgement and wisdom to handle the risks of the job?
What are their working hours?
Consider the legal limit for working hours. In many countries, the law protects teens from working too many hours, too early, or too late. As previously stated, working over 20 hours per week has shown to have negative affects on teenagers. Discuss with your child about what a healthy work experience looks like, the importance of their rights, setting boundaries, and saying no to working too many hours.
Raising a responsible child requires you as a parent to have the mindset of legacy. What legacy are you creating? Think beyond your lifetime. Your investment now, has the potential to benefit generations to come, and impact thousands of lives. The time, commitment, patience, and guidance you are investing now in your children, will affect not only them, but their children's children and the lives around them.
Looking back on your own life, what experiences helped teach you responsibility? What factors contributed to your sense of confidence, independence and self-sufficiency? Think about people in your family or others you knew who left a lasting legacy. What was it about them that made an impact upon your life?