Teaching Responsibility

Authors Foster Cline and Jim Fay of the book, Parenting with Love and Logic introduce a fabulous concept at the very start of their book.  “If we can teach our kids responsibility, we’ve accomplished a great portion of our parental task.”  We are all familiar with this idea; we see cute little charts in parenting magazines complete with motivational stickers, we hear horror stories of teenagers who don’t know how to take care of the car Mom and Dad have entrusted them with and we determine that we are going to be the parents who get it right – the first time.  BUT HOW?

My explanation of the Love and Logic plan is very simple.  Offer your children logical options to life’s daily decisions that need to be made, give them the freedom to make decisions on their own and love them through the results of those decisions (be they good or bad).  The hardest thing for me to read was the idea that letting children fail at times is okay.

The authors introduce the concept of “thoughtful risks”. This means allowing the child to make his/her own choices in an area where the consequence of a bad choice may be negative, but obviously not life-threatening. For example, my 1st grade son has library every Tuesday and needs to return his books before he’s allowed to check out new. Do I: A) carefully pack his books in his backpack on Monday night to ensure their safe arrival at school? B) Give him the responsibility of packing his books (perhaps with some helpful reminders/hints the first few weeks)

I’ll admit that my first instinct is A. It’s simple and easy for me to toss his books into his backpack for him.  After reading Love and Logic, I was affirmed that I need to switch to B.  And as tempting as it might be if I’m driving in the area anyway, I shouldn’t add a plan C, running the forgotten books to school for him.  He can suffer the consequences of no new library books for a week and that lesson will help his learning process.

Another small example comes from clothing choices. I have been accused (along with many other parents, I hope) of dressing my children based on how warm or cold I am feeling at the moment. My son asks, “why am I wearing this coat to school?” and my husband answers, “Because your mother is cold.”  If I feel a coat is needed on a certain day, I could change my phrasing from “Put this coat on, it’s cold outside.” to the phrase, “It’s cold outside, do you think you need a coat?” Or if a coat is mandatory due to cold weather, you can still offer a lighter or heavier weight coat. If the child chooses poorly and is cold on the playground, you can be hopeful that he/she will wear the heavier one next time.

Bigger areas of thoughtful risk include responsibility for making/bringing a lunch to school or suffering the consequences of breaking a window playing ball and needing to pay for it herself.

Cline and Fay encourage parents to begin allowing their children the ability to make their own choices as early as 9 months of age. These can be simple decisions, but are early moments to give your children control of some of their life consequences. For example,  Do you want to have your bath before or after your bedtime story allows young children to feel that they are deciding things for themselves. Cline and Fay share a goal that children should be able to make most basic decisions by the time they are 11-12 years old without parental input.

The best way to create a confident 11-12 year old is to give your younger child opportunities of thoughtful risk in which he/she will have moments of success and moments of failure and loving and supporting them through both.

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