Teaching Kids to Be Responsible
“I was so afraid that he [her son] would fail that I forgot to affirm his success.” Iyanla Vanzant.
Iyanla’s statement caused me to do a great deal of thinking about the way parents teach responsibility.
Why is it most parents feel like the only way to teach responsibility is through threats, fear and punishment? Threats, fear and punishment impede responsibility; they don’t inspire it.
Most of us, myself included, were raised by parents who used threats, fear, anger and punishment. Then, we grew up to have our own kids and came face to face with whether or not we wanted to use the same type of parenting we were raised with. Some parents defend their parenting style by saying, “If the way my parents raised me was good enough for me, and I turned out okay, then it’s okay for my kids!”
I happen to believe that turning out “okay” is not a goal you want for your kids! We all want our kids to thrive, be independent and responsible.
In most households trying to teach a child about responsibility means telling them what they can and can’t do, what they should and shouldn’t do, and how they’ve messed up.
How can you change that?
Key #1: Re-balance the parental scales.
Focus on acknowledging your kids when they do something right, instead of only focusing on them when they do something wrong.
Key #2: “Slowly release your child to themselves bit by bit,”
Letting your child experience the results of his or her actions is how a child truly learns. In order to do that, you have to raise the bar in your mind. See your child as being successful. Talk in terms of the expectations you know they can reach, because they’ve done it before. Then allow them to decide if they will stretch themselves to meet the raised bar of expectations, or not. If they don’t, let the natural consequences from their choices take hold. And instead of re-hashing their failed attempt, again and again, place your parental comments and attention on any good behavior that pops up.
Doing this creates wisdom by allowing your child come to his own conclusion, with your guidance of course, that failing, or being irresponsible, is not what they want for themselves. They will naturally gravitate to doing things that allow them to experience your applause versus your threats and punishment. Think about it, what would you prefer hearing, “Hey buddy, job well done!” or “What in the world were you thinking??!!”
Key #3: What should you do with your feelings about the fact that the expectation wasn’t met?
Tell the truth, and be aware of your words. Frame things in a way that leaves room for improvement next time. You don’t have to become permissive. You don’t have to be sugary sweet, or become a drill sergeant, either. Tell the truth, while remaining connected and firm at the same time. Continue to hold the bar high so she knows that you believe she can do it. If you lower the bar after a failure, the silent message is, I knew you couldn’t do it.
Key #4: Do not take lack of responsibility personally.
Your child is in the process of growing and learning. He is not fully baked yet. There’s plenty of time to grow a responsible young adult. Make it clear that not meeting expectations, or lack of responsibility was her choice, and she can’t take her disappointment out on you, or the rest of the family.
Key #5: Explain that you are letting go, not abandoning her.
Let your child know you are not bailing on her, but it’s her job to dig deep to change things in her life that aren’t working well. Let her know you will no longer be making it your job to force her, or yell at her, to get her to act responsibly. You’re right there to support her, if need be, but you will also be implementing any consequences that need to happen as result of her choices. This way of parenting usually causes a child to decide that success is what’s applauded in my family, and it’s what feels best to me.
I know it’s hard to let kids fail, it was torture for me. But, the sooner you let them learn from failure, the sooner they will choose to succeed, and then the world is theirs for the taking.