Raising responsible kids; what we must do.
Does your pre-schooler try and tell you what the teacher has asked for? Does your first grader pull his tiffin box out of the school bag and put it out to wash? Starting from telling you what they need for school from a young age to becoming responsible adults who can fend for themselves might seem a stretch, but how we raise our children has a lot to do with the kind of adults they turn out to be.
We often stress about getting the three ‘R’s right - Reading Writing and Arithmetic. But what about the fourth ‘R’? Responsibility?
As they grow, do they take more and more responsibility for themselves? Parents are often guilty of making life too easy for their kids. We all want our kids to have everything that we might have missed out on. We also want them to focus on what we think are life skills helping them in their lives ahead. Getting their Math exam right, or doing their best in the Football match, or enjoying playing the Tabla is one part of it. But what about organizing food for oneself, getting groceries and paying the bills without having anyone to remind you?
We ask very little of our kids in terms of responsibilities at home. They all have their needs often met without having to express them. Food appears magically on the table, and at times they have to be nagged to come and eat their meals. Their rooms and beds are clean often without them having to lift a finger. They are expected to just go to their classes and do well- for which they are again often nagged, or so they feel.
Also more often than not, it is easier to do everything ourselves and much faster. There is a milk spill – it’s easier to pick up the wipe and clean it off rather than wait and teach a little human who does not have the best idea of how to do it and will undoubtedly need a follow up cleaning by an adult anyway.
Here is an idea though which we all agree to – anything worth teaching is not easy to teach. We do not expect them to learn all their Maths and Science at one go. We often send them for extra coaching, take them to classes, etc. which will help them learn best. We tell them not to give up on their guitar classes just because they are not good at it initially, but we let them give up easily on everyday household responsibilities and chores. The room gets too messy by our standards, and we rush in to clean up, even for teenagers and young adults.
Experts say that when we do things for our kids, we are essentially telling them that they are not capable of doing it themselves. When they get a math sum wrong, we sit with them and make them redo it for as long as it takes. Yet, we snatch the wipeout of their hands and clean up the milk spill at the first sign of ineptitude.
As they grow up they get used to being waited on, not expected to do anything in a family they are a part of, and if we try and teach them something at that point, it’s easier to rebel against the life they are not used to. So how can we do something right from the start that they will look at their share of work and chores as being a supportive part of a family? What is the best way to raise responsible adults? Giving kids responsibility for their actions, their belongings, and their home has to start young.
Read to them – Stories of children helping at home, helping mom and dad with everyday household chores. Every story is a teaching moment. Use it wisely.
Start with what they watch – Catch teachable moments. In a movie or a show for example, when young kids do their chores, point out how that helps. Praise it. When their favorite Superhero does not leave messes behind, they too will follow suit.
Hold them accountable - for their actions, even if it means an uncomfortable, interaction with them. No one likes to stand over a tired and frustrated little child and tell them to put away the toys that they spread all over, especially since it may be easier for us to do it ourselves. If they scatter their toys, they must also learn to put them away.
Assign age-appropriate tasks from the very start – Toddlers can, for instance, turn off lights when they leave the room. Put toys away when finished. Say thank you to teachers, doctors, caregivers, when they engage. Pre-schoolers can help set the table. Put away their books in a bag.
Make it easy to accomplish – You cannot expect a child to step up quickly and learn it all in a day. To make the learning a habit, make it easier. Provide step stools to reach light switches. Provide storage for toys that they can access easily, like bins and low shelves.
Make it fun - Shelling peas and counting them and popping a few into the mouth is fun andd gets the work done. Rolling a roti for the first time and watching it cook is great fun, even if it is weird shape. Make chores fun and it can be a great way to spend quality family time together.
Build a sense of gratitude – Teach them to appreciate what they have. If a child values a toy, they are more likely to care for it. Let them know how nice it is to be part of a family.
Make them a part of the solution – Broken glass is best handled by adults, but you can put the child in a safe space like a high chair and tell them why it’s important to pick up all shards. Let them watch.
Be a role model – Like in everything we want our kids to learn, it works best when you do what you are expecting them to do. Eat everything on your plate if you expect them to order responsibly at a restaurant as they grow older. Say the magic words, thank you and please each time.
Have faith – They may be young, but they have the ability, and your belief in that will help them as well. See them as capable human beings, and they will begin to see themselves that way too.
Reading writing and arithmetic are precious skills, but without a healthy dose of responsibility, they may not make for a happy, healthy life. Teach them young, and you will raise independent, capable adults. Isn’t that what we want for them?
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