“I recognize this world. We practiced for it at home.”
These words are the bold declaration of a young man waving good-bye to his parents as he heads out into the real world—to college, to the military, or to work and live on his own. They represent the goal of parenting. They also exemplify an ideal for parents readying their child for school.
According to many experts in child development, the first five to six years of a child’s life are the time when a child begins to develop a sense of self. During this period children explore the world, master self-care, become more autonomous and learn social skills. When a child moves to a more formal educational setting, this groundwork should be in place.
Most parents would agree, but how, exactly, does a parent help a young child learn to be a responsible, compassionate human being in a manner in keeping with developmental norms for his or her age group.
In Parenting with Love & Logic, Cline and Fay assert that there are four steps to responsibility and suggest the following:
1) Give your child a task or chore that he or she can manage.
In general, American parents require far too little from their children. They say things like, “School and sports are their work; I take care of everything else.” Unfortunately, this tends to give children the impression that the world revolves around them and their “success” in the classroom or on the field. It typically does not help them become nicer, kinder, more responsible human beings. So don’t be afraid to require “family contributions” from your children. Give them tasks to do that help everyone in their home.
2) Hope that your child will fail to accomplish task in some way.
You ask your child to load the dishwasher, but he forgets. You request that your kids pick up their room, fold their clothing, and put it away, but it doesn’t happen. You assign them to feed the dog and take out the trash, but the trash remains. What do you do?
You don’t want your children to fail so that you can make them feel bad. Rather, you see their failure on follow through as an opportunity for growth. Since some of our best learning comes when we experience difficulty, we don’t want to rob our children of those valuable lessons by doing it all or too much ourselves. It’s far more important that they think about how to solve the problem than it is for their parents. The parent’s problem is to back off and allow this to happen.
3) Allow equal parts of consequence and empathy to do the teaching.
So let’s say your child forgets to do his chores in some way. What will you do? How do you respond to increase the likelihood this will be a valuable learning experience instead for a headache for all involved?
First, don’t remind. If you want your youngster to learn organizational and time management skills, once they know the task and the time frame in which it must be done, reminding them is off the table. Don’t do it! See what happens when you don’t remind and they forget. They may be wondering the same thing.
Second, when you do see that the dishes haven’t been taken care of, the dog is hungry and clothing is scattered all around the room, express sadness and regret. “Oh my, this is so sad. I know how I felt when I was a kid and forgot to do something important.” Say this with meaning because you were once a child and you probably remember that sinking sense of dread that you may have felt when you didn’t do something your mom or dad asked.
Third, impose some natural or logical consequences. For instance, you might say, “No worries, when you forget, I just pay myself (or your sibling) to do your chores out of your lunch money. You can always make your lunch and take it . . . or repay me with other chores . . . or use the birthday money you got from your grandparents to reimburse me. It’s up to you.”
With this approach, there’s no need for anger because the logical consequences do the teaching. Just avoid undermining your efforts with additional scolding or reprimand. Logical consequences imposed with firmness and empathy have the best chance of doing the teaching.
4) Give the same task again.
There’s no need to take a particular chore away from your child because it was incomplete or not done at all. Using the approach above, i.e. giving the same task again, says to a child, “Okay, so you made a mistake. Mistakes have consequences, but you can also learn from them. Let’s give that another go and see how you do this time. I bet you’ll do much better.”
Children whose parents know how to give them chores or tasks to accomplish, along with allowing them natural or logical consequences as they learn, are privileged children. These kinds of experiences will go a long way to helping them become responsible citizens and compassionate adults.