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How to teach responsibility

Mar 05, 2010 | By Harvey Craft

'Responsibility' is a favorite word in schools. But how do children become responsible?

Child holding hands with parentsTen people will offer ten somewhat different versions of 'responsibility'. Likely, they will include something about “being accountable” or “doing good thing.” Most parents get the general idea, but often don't know how to inspire responsibility. And too many parents and teachers believe that the road to responsibility is paved with material rewards – things!

Responsibility, Growth, and Success

Responsibility is often discussed as a single thing, but to encourage responsibility it is best to have an idea of its multiple facets. The list below is easily understood and is helpful in reminding parents where to focus efforts in helping children become responsible.

  • Respect for the rights of others.
  • Doing the right thing as defined by social norms.
  • Doing the right thing as defined by laws.
  • Accepting accountability for one’s behavior and its outcome.
  • Being self-reliant.
  • Having age-appropriate behavior.

Building Respect

Respect is a major component for the development of total responsibility. Being able to put children's importance and needs in the background as events demand, is essential. Not only to personal growth, but to the success of society, as it is a primary component of the cooperative nature of civilizations.

As with all dimensions of responsibility, respect should be observed by children if it is to be learned. Children should see it between parents and they should feel it from parents as love and a sense of importance, and parents can use the word when children begin to understand language. The word can be linked to numerous visible examples involving people, pets, and story book examples.

Children return respect through affection, by asking permission, by being careful with other people’s property, and sharing voluntarily or at least willingly.

When children learn respect, they are ready to become truly responsible. Children model the behavior of parents. That immature, whining, parents have whiney, immature children is no accident. Aggressive children generally have parents who punish aggressively or use threats.

Mutual Respect Leads to Maturity

Parent disciplining childGood parenting demands that mom and dad be good sources of information about what defines responsibility. The best lessons are those that arise in natural situations.
Children at shopping malls exhibit a spectrum of behaviors. Parents can ask children what they think about a troublesome child or a parent who can’t manage their children. The world outside is full of lessons both positive and negative. Nobody is perfect. All parents will make mistakes especially when they are hurried or stressed. But being armed with a plan makes everyone a learner.

The best plans include ideas about correct ways to discipline. Children require correction. They will test the world around them. Parents will be frustrated, but should understand that the best children can offer challenges. The best qualities to manage personal frustration are patience, composure, and consistent behavior.

To acknowledge proper behavior helps children know what responsibility looks and feels like. Parents should let children know that they notice when they do a right thing or demonstrate responsibility in some way. Likewise, if children have major lapses in responsible behavior, a calm conversation about what should have been done and why might be in order. Clear communication between parents and children is absolutely essential to the growth and nurturing of responsible behavior.

Child getting a gift

Be Careful When Rewarding Children

Rewards are often recommended as a means of reinforcing good behavior, but there are pitfalls that accompany the use of rewards. Over-reliance on rewards can encourage materialistic behavior and other complications.
The writings and research of Alfie Kohn are worth reviewing for details about abusing rewards. For now, parents should keep in mind that if they want children to be charitable (altruistic behavior), parents must help them develop positive feelings about doing good things because they are right, not because of some extrinsic reward.

Also, there is a rather insidious side of rewards. Specifically, parents usually feel good when they make their children happy by giving them an extrinsic reward. That good feeling reinforces the giving behavior, thus obstructing parental judgment about how to apply extrinsic rewards. Quite literally, children are training parents to be givers by reacting positively to gifts.

For this and other reasons, intrinsic rewards, specifically praise and recognition, are highly recommended. Humans seem to be programmed to respond positively to the approval of others. Appreciation of a good act is a genuine feeling, not a convenient and artificial object. People recall the way others made them feel.

Finally, the need for extrinsic rewards has a tendency to increase with use. If money is used, for example, the cost of specific behaviors will increase. The extrinsic reward may, in fact, cease to be effective.

So begin early to develop responsibility through respect and communication. Don’t expect perfection, but progress over time. Be aware of what responsibility is and acknowledge children when they show it, using extrinsic motivators liberally and extrinsic motivators sparingly.

About the author:
Harvey Craft is a retired educator and former principal, with extensive experience in teaching grades six through to twelve. He is NBPTS certified in Adolescent Science and now spends his time in educational research, consulting, and freelance writing.
Click here to contact or read more articles by Harvey Craft.

Tags : kids, children, behavior, responsibility, parenting

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