By: Jennifer Griffin-Wiesner
The title of the post misleads: A personal value, which responsibility is, can’t actually be taught like long division or the periodic table. It can be nurtured and instilled, but certainly not engrained simply through exposure; this is one of the “letting go” lessons of parenting. Read more >
There are though plenty of teachable moments to watch for and seize throughout childhood and adolescence. Every time your kid does something exceptionally responsible or highly irresponsible you have an opportunity on your hands to reinforce the choices you like and discourage those you don’t.
Case in point: My eldest has one buddy with whom he conspires on ill-conceived plans. These typically lead to a last minute plea for “rescue.” My son is generally a high achiever. Intellectual, emotional, and social things come easily. So it’s also pretty common for us to cut him some slack. For a while last year Shop Guy and I were bailing my son out on a regular basis. Finally, one night we weren’t available to take them downtown to a basketball game for which they had already purchased tickets, assuming they could find a ride. We told our son he had to work it out in a way that was okay with us, or not go. Through a series of orchestrations they eventually found an adult friend to drive. The natural consequence of the incident seems to have done its job, and we haven’t faced a similar situation in months.
Certainly we should tell our children the priorities we care about most, and reinforce when we see them living these out. Then the best we can do is model, talk, listen, and continue to build other assets over the long-term. Here are five, additional, practical strategies that can help:
1. Be clear about expectations. If we do this, it means that when the time comes for negative consequences, kids understand why.
2. Enforce logical consequences. These can be very effective when the natural consequences don’t work. My daughter doesn’t care much how she sounds on the violin. She loves her teacher, however, and knows that she needs to take responsibility for practicing if she wants us to continue paying for lessons.
3. Ask kids what they think should happen. One day when I was 16 and furious with my dad, I took the car without asking just to get away from the house. He was livid but didn’t know how to sufficiently punish me. He asked me what I thought and I grounded myself for two weeks.
4. Offer choices, but only ones you can live with. When a neighbor kid broke a window trying to bat a baseball over his house, his parents gave him the option of paying for it outright with his savings or working off the cost over time.
5. Know what motivates your kid. My son is bothered by plans that fall through or don’t come together as intended. For him what happened on the night of the basketball game was enough to ensure more responsible behavior in the future. My daughter, on the other hand, is perfectly willing to put up with the drama that comes with chaos. For her, a more effective consequence would have been not being allowed to go at all.
Tell Us: How do you deal with irresponsible behavior?
If you’re ready to take it a step further, I recommend the following reads on raising responsible kids:
- Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline, MD and Jim Fay (a Christian focus)
- The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Kids by Wendy Mogel
- What Kids Need to Succeed: Proven, Practical Ways to Raise Good Kids by Peter Benson, Judy Galbraith and Pamela Espeland