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Teach Responsibility in 4 Steps

Teach Responsibility in 4 Steps

-Ruthi Thompson is CEDARS Staff Development & Volunteer Manager

I hear it all the time. Parents tell me they constantly have to remind their kids to do their homework, to be ready on time, to remember their lunch bags or science fair projects.

“How do we help our children learn responsibility?”
“Is there a way that allows us as parents not to be the “bad guy” all the time?”

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. It’s a common struggle.

Thankfully, the steps to teaching responsibility are simple. They will take effort and might require you as a parent to rethink a few things, but the payoff with be huge. And no, you won’t be the “bad guy.”

I have the privilege of teaching Love and Logic® courses to new foster parents at CEDARS, and the following is the method I teach to instill confidence and responsibility in their kids.

Step One: Give the child a task they can handle.

Pick something age-appropriate and within the scope of their talents and reach. For best results, have the child describe in their own words how things will look when the task is completed.

Step Two: Hope that the child “blows” it.

This probably sounds harsh. But believe me it’s better for your child to learn now in a safe environment than later on in the real world. Letting your child “blow” it provides them with a “real world” learning experience.

This also reduces the temptation for reminders. Reminders won’t help your child learn to be ready on time, to get their homework done, or to do that science fair project. When they grow up you won’t be on their shoulder to remind them to pay the bills, or get to work, or stock the fridge; so allow them to make mistakes so they can learn from them.

If your child can have a learning lesson today it will be the most inexpensive lesson possible. The cost of learning about the real world goes up as time goes on.

Step Three: Let equal parts of empathy and consequence do the teaching.

This is so important. Deliver a strong dose of empathy BEFORE delivering the consequence or the “bad news.”

Children need to learn that their mistakes hurt them. This does not happen when the adult gets angry. Delivering the bad news doesn’t make you the bad guy. Getting angry makes you the bad guy. Children need to feel loved and nurtured. This happens when you are able to empathize with them.

Empathy or sorrow reduces the chance that the child will spend time thinking about the adult’s anger. Instead, the child’s attention is free to focus on their own life decisions, learning what is a good choice and what is a bad choice.

Step Four: Give the same task again.

This sends the unstated message that people learn from their mistakes and lets your child know that you believe they are capable of doing the task correctly. What a great message for your child to receive over and over again—that my parent believes in me and trusts me!

Parents, I know that this method might require a departure from upbringing or prior learning, but these steps truly have the child’s well-being and growth in mind. And that’s what’s important. Best of luck. I know you can do it!

-Ruthi