You want your child to put their plate in the dishwasher, but they leave it in the sink. You want them to return home at curfew, but they return home 30 minutes late. You ask them to be a role model for their younger sibling, but they argue over the remote control. What do we do when we work at teaching children responsibility yet they refuse to accept it? Here are some helpful guidelines to follow when your child would much rather play the blame-game, than to take ownership for themselves:
1. Define choices and consequences
Sit down with your child and engage them in a conversation about what they are responsible for, and what choices will produce the best outcomes for them. Explain that responsibility means paying attention to their own behaviors and actions. Let them know that you will be there to help them make good choices. Also explain the consequences should they choose to make an irresponsible choice. Laying the groundwork before an incident happens allows your child to understand that they are in charge of their quality of life by the choices they make. Likewise, it helps you to remain calm and to not overreact when your child chooses to be irresponsible. You can simply implement the consequence discussed and avoid getting sucked into an argument over the outcome of their choice.
2. Stick to the rules
Follow through on what you say. This is so important for you to remember as a parent. Children and teens need to know that there are consequences to their bad behaviors. They need to understand that those consequences are consistent. Teaching children responsibility requires consistency. Without it, you send the message that the rules only apply some of the time. You give children ammunition for the next time you try to implement a consequence where there was none before. If you continually overdrew your banking account, your bank would consistently charge you an overdraft fee. They wouldn’t charge you only sometimes, or when it was convenient for them.
Your kids will not always pick the best times to break the rules; their misbehavior may impact you and the plans you have. If your child throws a fit in the middle of the grocery store and you have told them that they would not be able to shop with you if they choose to scream and yell, then you may have to pause your shopping and return at a later time so that you can remove your child from the store. While it may not be convenient for you to come back an hour later, it is important to teach your child how to be responsible by demonstrating that there are consequences to their behaviors.
3. Make it easy
Let your child know that you are a safe person to come to when they make a mistake (because they will!). After you have given a consequence for their misbehavior, make sure to calmly approach them and have a conversation about why they received the consequence they did. Instead of reacting to your child’s poor choice with anger, use the experience as an opportunity to teach them a lesson in responsibility. Let them know that everyone makes mistakes, (yes, even you), and make sure they know that it is more important to be honest about their mistakes, that they learn from the situation, and that they know the difference between right and wrong. Discuss the situation and explore other ways in which they could have handled the situation differently. Being calm and approachable makes it easier for your child to own up to their mistakes, and makes it more likely that they will admit to their wrongs in the future.
4. Highlight their success
Everyone loves to hear that they have done a job well done, kids included! When you notice your child being responsible for themselves and their behavior, make it known. Let them know that their effort to be more responsible has not gone unnoticed. So often we focus on the moments that do not go well, that we lose sight of the moments that do. The more you focus on the positives and look for the moments where your child does choose appropriate behaviors, the more those behaviors are reinforced. Your child will feel encouraged and proud of their good choices, inevitably increasing them, making for a more positive environment.
5. Expectations versus hard work
Be aware of the expectations you might have, and do not overlook the hard work that your child is putting in. If you ask your child to get themselves ready in the morning, they may put together an outfit that is mix-matched and hair that is a little messy. Don’t criticize. Recognize a job-well done and recognize the hard-work they put into getting ready on their own.
6. Model behavior
What you do and say are often the biggest influences on your child’s own behaviors. They look to you on how to navigate situations, and the way you model responsibility (and talk about it), becomes the standard. If you expect your child to make their bed each morning, you must do so as well. If you would like your child to be polite and respectful to family and friends, you must demonstrate that in your own relationships too. Ditch the phrase, “I can do it because I’m the adult,” and hold yourself to the same standards that you expect from your child, because remember, you are always modeling and teaching your child how to be responsible.
7. Don’t give up
Remember, teaching children responsibility to learn new behaviors and skills is a process. Change does happen, but it does not happen overnight. Be patient with your child because they will make mistakes along the way, as will you, and that is okay! Stay calm and focus on how far they have come, versus how far they have to go.