Modeling Responsibility

Many parents take the caretaker role too far by accepting responsibility for making the child happy and putting their own desires aside. This approach is not good for the parent or for the growing child. When the child continually asks the parent to do something, and the parent does what the child requests, the parent sooner or later may feel some resentment and even anger. Notice the implicit learning: It teaches that the child does not need to value the parent’s desires or the parent’s time—that the child comes first.

The child not only learns to be manipulative but also becomes more demanding of the parent’s time. It would be better for the parent to sometimes say, “I’ll do that with you later,” or “I need some time alone. You need to play by yourself now.” Children learn that they can indeed make themselves happy. Of course, any parent will often put his or her child first—but not to the point of dependency, and less and less as the child grows more able to take responsibility.

The approach of demonstrating personal responsibility is one of the hardest to implement, but the benefit is most worthwhile because the parent is role-modeling responsible behavior. Needless to say, at first a child will not like it. But after a while, the youngster realizes more satisfaction by taking personal responsibility than by relying on someone else for his or her happiness.

When the parent says to the child, “I have to take care of you because you can’t do it for yourself,” and the child goes along with it, the child’s self-esteem is compromised. However, when the parent communicates, “I am here for you if you need me, but I have faith that you can make yourself happy,” the child learns to behave in a more autonomous, responsible way.