Last month, I covered the topic of giving kids choices, and how we need to be responsible for both the options we give, as well as accepting the choice that the child makes. Today, I want to dive into what is very much the flipside to the choices coin – and that is responsibility.
To see how this ties together, let’s go with the picking-out-their-clothes example that I used in the previous article. Once your child has their clothing picked out for the day, you’ll go about the activities you have planned. What if they’ve decided to put on something that isn’t appropriate for the weather (say, shorts in the winter) or the activity (a party dress when headed out to the trails)? Provided we stick with our earlier decision to abide by their choice (well, perhaps we’ll put a warmer coat and snow pants on in that first example), they’ll start to learn that their decisions have ramifications – and they’re responsible for those choices and their results.
But why is this important? As your child begins to pick up on the concept of responsibility, you can begin to instill the lessons that they are more than just an isolated person. You’ll start off by teaching them to be a contributing (and responsible) member of your immediate family. This will then be able to be extended to the larger family, perhaps your local congregation. Ultimately, this will lead to them learning how to be a responsible member of society.
Of course, that’s the end goal. Before we get there, we’ve got a lot of smaller steps to cover. This is a journey we ourselves are fairly early on with, as our oldest is just about four. That isn’t to say we don’t have her being responsible for things, though. These can be fairly little things, but they’ll be lessons that add up.
For example, we’ve started having her clear her plate from the dinner table once she’s been excused. When this started out, we had to remind her each night of what was expected of her. Now, it’s become routine – she knows it’s something she needs to do. We had a wonderful reminder of her progress over the Thanksgiving weekend. At both my parents’ and my sister’s house, after being excused (at every meal) she would take her dishes over to the sink without being asking. She may not realize it yet, but she’s learning the lesson of contributing to the smooth running of our family, aka being a responsible family member.
Another lesson she’s been learning has been with what she brings along in her backpack. We’ll try to give some guidelines for what she packs in there (coloring books, a favorite stuffed toy, etc), but she’s more or less given free reign once she’s got the specific things we want her to have packed in. Sometimes, she’ll be ready to head out the door, and we’ll put the backpack on her shoulders, only to hear her say “it’s too heavy!” It’s at this point that I’ll remind her that the weight is from her own activities – she packed in everything she wanted to bring. While I’ll occasionally help her carry the bag, I’d be more inclined to help her clear things out to lighten the load. It’s a small lesson, but she’s learning to be responsible for her own belongings, as well as some self sufficiency (in other words, pack what you can carry, not to depend on others to help).
Don’t get me wrong – we help our kids as much as we can with many things, especially in areas they’re still learning. Here and there, though, we’ll take that small step back just to see what happens – what they’re learning, where we need to focus – that sort of thing. I’ve said it before in these articles, and I’m sure I’ll say it again: this is yet another one of those areas that we’re working through, and it’s definitely a trial-by-error. Even for those of you reading this – you might try my examples, and they may or may not work for your kids or your parenting style. Every child is different, and of course that changes the dynamics of this thing called parenting.
That all said, I’m curious what other situations our readers have come across with giving their kids more responsibility. I’m sure there are plenty of stories (good, funny, or otherwise) that we could ultimately all learn from. In our house, we’re learning as we go, and seeing how our kids react to what we’re opening up to them. The ultimate goal is to have a productive and responsible member of our family and society. We’re just enjoying the fun and rolling with the bumps and bruises as we travel the path to getting them there.