The Best Way to Promote Responsibility

One vital thought to keep in mind when promoting responsibility with the young is this: “Do not do something for them that they can do for themselves.”

When you 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 he is doing—or not doing—is seen as directing your emotions.

Here’s how it often plays out: The youngster has a number of things to do and is laxidazical about doing them. You remind the youngster—to no avail. Time passes. Another reminder is forthcoming with the same result. At this point, many parents resort to discipline measures, either offering a reward (bribe) for the child to comply or imposing a punishment.

Rather than become increasingly stressed and try to discipline the child, have a chat. The conversation will revolve around those things that the youngster is supposed to do. After listing them, have the child establish a VERY SPECIFIC procedure for each.

For example, if the task is homework, the procedure lists exactly what and when preparations start and how the task will be handled. The youngster makes a list that 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 by questions.

If the time for a scheduled activity arrives without movement toward it, you simply ask, “Have you checked your list?” If there is not satisfactory progress, then elicit the consequence from the youngster. The child may show his 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 your attention to something else until the outburst subsides. 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 should have the stress—not you.