Parents scramble to find just the right gift for their children each holiday season. Certain toys are in great demand, and some parents will stand in line so their child will not be disappointed Christmas morning. However, there is one gift we can give our kids that will outlast the toys and the excitement of Christmas. It is a gift our kids will treasure and use their entire lives: responsibility. Here are some practical and proven tips to help your child build a sense of responsibility that will guide his or her life.
Send Positive Messages
Become aware of the number of times you state something negatively that could be stated positively. Also, promise with the positive by using contingencies, rather than consequences – which are usually interpreted as punishments. Saying the following sentence means spelling out a positive contingency: "As soon as you finish your work, you can go." This is more effective than saying the same message in a negative way: "If your work is not done, you're not going."
Choice empowers. The choices can be limited, but the sooner a young person starts to make choices, the more responsible he or she will become. If a youngster will not do chores or fulfill responsibilities, increase the number of options so the child has more choices. Choice gives ownership, a critical component for changing behavior.
In relationships, not losing is more important than winning. As long as a person has a choice, the person does not lose. Your child has a desire for power, for control. Offer reasonable choices.
Choices are both conscious and unconscious (or habitual). A person always has the possibility to choose a response – be it to a situation, a stimulus or an urge. Teach "choice-response" thinking. Don't accept victim-type thinking, which is counterproductive to fostering responsibility. Examples of victim-type thinking are "He made me do it," "I couldn't control myself" and "I had no other choice." Explore options.
Reflection fosters growth and responsibility. Ask evaluative questions – those which lead to reflection. Here is a series of four such questions, which can lead to a change in behavior:
- What do you want?
- Is what you are choosing to do helping you get what you want?
- If what you are choosing to do is not getting you what you want, then what is your plan?
- What are your procedures to implement your plan – specifically, what will you do? What else?
Be cautious of "why?" questions; they allow the person to give an excuse, be a victim and avoid responsibility. Besides, young people often do not know or find it difficult to articulate why they do what they do.
Limit your "telling." This requires constant attention. Although your telling may be to help, it is received as criticism. Telling sends a negative message – especially to adolescents – that what the youngster is doing is not good enough.
Consider this: When you tell, who does the thinking? When you ask, who does the thinking?
Seek to understand. Listen to your child – without inserting your opinion. Be curious instead of judgmental. Cultivating the habit of listening to understand can transform relationships. Avoid listening in anticipation of what you think your child will say. This poor listening habit will tempt you to interrupt. Listen to learn. Your child wants to be acknowledged. A parent who listens well acknowledges. Besides, your listening can be a model for adolescents who do not listen well. "Zip the lip" is extremely difficult for a parent, but it is the surest way to improve communications.
Acknowledge Good Deeds
Express your needs. Give your child the opportunity to help you. Children grow by giving. "I need you to help me with this." "I need quiet time." "I need assistance with dinner."
Use acknowledgments more than praise. Acknowledgment/recognition/validation simply affirm. "I see you made your bed," fosters reflection and feelings of self-competence, which leads to more growth. In contrast, saying, "I'm so proud of you for making your bed," encourages decision-making to please you. Developing responsibility, rather than pleasing you, is better for your child.
Rewards do not motivate young people to be responsible; they merely change motivation from thinking of the act to thinking of the bribe. Let your child know that you expect responsible behavior. Society does not give rewards for expected standards of behavior. Besides, rewards fail the critical test: "What will I get if no one is there to see me?"
By offering choices, you can use authority and be tough without being punitive. Instill the mindset that your objective is to raise responsibility, not to punish. However, if a consequence is necessary, elicit it from the youngster rather than impose it. In this way, the youngster owns the consequence.
Having dreams come true on Christmas morning is wonderful, but giving kids the gift of responsibility will help them achieve their dreams in the long term. Small efforts go a long way to creating an internal guidance system to help children build their own sense of responsibility and, therefore, their own destinies.