Responsibility, Stress, and Procedures

A thought to keep in mind in promoting responsibility with the young is not to do something for them that they can do for themselves.

When we want the young person to do something and he or she does not, oftentimes stress is induced—on the adult. The youngster is aware of your emotions and (nonconsciously) derives a sense of power from it. What the young person  is doing—or not doing—is seen as directing your emotions.

Let's assume the young person  has a number of things to do and is lackadaisical about doing them. You remind the youngster to no avail. Time passes. Another reminder is forthcoming with the same result.

Rather than become increasingly stressed, have a chat. The conversation will revolve around those things which are to be done by the youngster. After listing them, establish a procedure for each—VERY SPECIFIC procedures.

If the task is homework, the procedure lists exactly what and when preparations start and how the task will be handled. A list is made which includes starting time, location, and necessary materials to be on hand.

If other activities precede homework, they are also listed—again including specifics. If the activity before starting homework is play of some kind, items such as starting time for cleanup and what criteria will be used to determine when cleanup is satisfactory are listed.

The plan and list should be ELICITED FROM THE YOUNGSTER. This ensures ownership. Of course, the adult can offer suggestions and prompt further reflection with questions.

If the time for a scheduled activity arrives without movement toward it, the parent simply queries, "Have you checked your list?"

If there is not satisfactory progress, then elicit the consequence from the youngster. The child may show stress by becoming emotional. Do not respond to the emotional outbreak. If you do, you are sending the message, "Get emotional and you can have your way." Instead, redirect the attention to something else until the outburst subsides. Remember that emotions always follow cognition—not the other way around.

Stress is oftentimes a learning opportunity that promotes responsibility. And since the youngster is the one whose behavior needs to change, the young one is the one who may have the stress—not you.