Parents often ask me, “How do you teach your kids how to be responsible?” Responsibility is defined as the state of fact of being responsible, answerable, or accountable for something within one’s power, control, or management. So how do we teach our kids to be responsible?
The Perfect Life
As parents we want our children to succeed and do well socially and academically. We want our children to never have to struggle too much, be uncomfortable, or be disappointed. We want them to attend the best colleges and universities and meet that special someone whom they will marry. Eventually we want them to grow up to be productive citizens and good parents themselves.
In the 1980’s scientists built a biosphere in the mountains of Arizona. It was an attempt to create the “perfect” living environment for the human, plant, and animal life. The environment was created for perfect growing conditions for trees, fruits, and vegetables. The trees inside this sealed enclosure grew more rapidly than other trees in natural environments. However, they had weak underdeveloped root systems. When the trees grew to be a certain height, they would fall over. Scientists realized they forgot the natural element of wind. Trees need wind to help them grow their root systems deeper into the soil which in turn helps support the trees as they grow taller. The trees were not allowed to struggle and their roots and foundations were not strong enough to hold them up as they grew.
Children and Adolescents Learn Responsibility by Learning to Solve Their Own Problems
Children and adolescents learn responsibility through the natural experiences of life by learning to solve their own problems with their parents’ guidance. As a parent, have you rescued your child from getting poor grades, being teased, playing too rough on playgrounds, having to deal with a difficult teacher or peer at school? Have you made excuses for your child not completing tasks or chores or have you protected them from uncomfortable feelings or situations? Every parent has done this at one point or another. The more experiences and mistakes children and adolescents make the more they will learn how to be responsible.
Is it possible for children who have not been responsible for their actions and who have not solved their own problems to have the tools to face the rigors of adult life? Children who are robbed of the opportunities to solve their own problems will struggle as adults. Parents are not obligated to solve their child’s problem. Parents need to hand the problem back to their child in a loving way and guide them to solve their own problems.
Guiding Children to Solve Their Own Problems
The popular Love and Logic® parenting classes have outlined five steps in helping our children solve their own problems.
Parents who apply these steps have less stress and more responsible kids. These steps can be used for children and adolescents with Autism, ADHD, and other Behavioral Disorders with some slight modifications. The effectiveness of this approach does not depend on our children listening to our wisdom. It depends on our ability to empathetically hand the problem back in a loving way and help them explore solutions to their problems. Children and adolescents who learn to solve their own problems when they make mistakes or are faced with challenges will have a stronger foundation and become independent, responsible, and respectful adults.
Kyle Bringhurst, MSW
Address: 3048 East Baseline Road Suite 107
Mesa, AZ 85204