September 20th, 2015
Responsibility can seem like a daunting word. If we think about all the things we are responsible for, it can be frightening and overwhelming. We are responsible for ourselves, our responses, our relationships, our mistakes, our education and careers, our health and well-being … and while our children are growing up, we are responsible for all those things for them as well. But our goal is to teach them to be responsible for themselves.
When parents ask us how they can encourage their children to be more responsible, here’s what we suggest:
Be your child’s emotion coach
Today we understand the value of raising emotionally intelligent children – children who are confident, resilient, empathetic, compassionate and authentic. The way to raise emotionally intelligent children is to be their emotion coach. That means that when your children are upset, angry, jealous, disappointed, afraid, feeling inadequate, left out or let down… that you acknowledge the feelings and support your child to find her own solutions. Accepting your children’s feelings doesn’t mean that you are agreeing with them or accepting all behaviours. If your child says “I HATE YOU. YOU’RE THE WORST MOTHER EVER” and you respond with “you’re mad that you have to go to Granny’s and you can’t go to your friend’s party” … it is not a confession or agreement. It is just allowing their feelings to be heard. And once the feeling is released you may go back to address the behaviour.
Often, we are quick to invalidate our children’s feelings because we want to fix things for them and make everything better. Rather than advising them and telling them what to do, it is better for them to allow them to come up with their own solutions.
Teaching children how to deal with uncomfortable feelings with words will teach them to be responsible for dealing with life’s knocks in a positive way. We can also coach them to deal with anger by taking vigorous exercise or with sadness by listening to music or with overwhelm by putting something in order and we can model how we deal with these feelings ourselves.
Use the mistakes process
Children will make mistakes. For children to learn, we need to be able to see mistakes and failure as an opportunity to learn. The mistakes process will leave you and your children with new learning and a strengthened connection. This needs to be done when everyone is calm … so take some cool down time beforehand to be able to handle the situation positively. You’ll need to start by acknowledging the feelings involved.
Set up for Success
At the heart of positive parenting is teaching our children what they can be responsible for – given their age and stage of development. Setting up for success means being a proactive and prepared parent. It means teaching your child to tie his shoes throughout the summer holidays rather than thinking he’ll be able to do it on the first day of school. It’s about giving some thought and training rather than ambushing your children at the last minute expecting that they’ll be happy and willing to do what is required. Talking through things ahead of time with your children – whether it’s your 4 year old’s first day of school or your teenager’s first secondary school party – is preparing them so they are ready for what could happen.
When children have chores to do, they start to see themselves as contributing to the family. Add on the descriptive praise they receive from you when they have done the chore and they develop the feeling of being trusted. That in turn builds their confidence and motivation to continue to help out!
Chores teach children valuable life skills. Whether your children are making their beds and tidying their rooms, or cooking, cleaning up, preparing a table for dinner, helping in the garden, or taking care of a pet, we know that children gain a stronger sense of pride and dignity from being a contributing member of the family.
Writer Joan Dideon said: “The willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life is the source from which self-respect springs.” We want to give our children the gift of self-respect. By using these four parenting tools, you will purposefully ensure that you are passing on that gift every day.
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