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Give Kids More Responsibility

This column deals with strategies for parents who do not give their children enough responsibility.

You can’t tell a new baby to be responsible. But you can have high expectations for a child from birth on. Expectations that the child will grow up to become an adult who is a loving, caring human being and a responsible citizen. This is a tall order for new parents but it’s our job.

Low expectations can actually do our children harm as these examples illustrate:

    • Parents don’t expect a baby to self-calm so they rush in to soothe at the very first peep instead of letting the baby figure out, “I can fall back asleep on my own!”

 

  • Parents don’t expect a toddler who is having a tantrum to calm down if ignored so they teach the lesson that if you yell loud enough you get plenty of attention from your parents.

 

 

  • Parents don’t expect a preschooler to put away the toys so they always clean up after their kids and wonder why they are such slobs.

 

 

  • Parents don’t expect a child to do homework without 1) Repeatedly asking the kid, “Is your homework done? thereby preventing the child from learning responsibility and 2) Doing or checking the homework so it’s perfect thereby preventing the child from learning from mistakes.

 

 

  • Parents don’t expect their children can figure out how to deal with siblings or friends on their own so they hover like helicopters thereby preventing the kids from working it out.

 

 

  • Parents don’t expect kids to do their chores so they repeatedly ask, “Did you make your bed yet?” which means the child will never make a bed without being asked to.

 

 

  • Parents don’t expect their child to get up on time so they become human alarm clocks chiming, “Time to get up!”many times.

 

In order to do our parenting job we have to encourage our children, model appropriate behavior, guide them in the path of appropriate behavior, administer appropriate consequences, and give appropriate and deserved praise. But all that is not enough. We must give our child responsibility for his or her own behavior in developmentally-appropriate ways.

When the baby is about two months of age, parents should start giving the baby the responsibility of self-calming after waking up. How? By hesitating a bit before going to the baby. Parents give their toddler the responsibility of calming down after a tantrum by ignoring the child. We give the preschooler the responsibility of cleaning up the toys by not doing it ourselves. We give school-age children the responsibility of doing their homework and doing it well by not hovering. We also give them the responsibility of working out differences with friends and siblings by not interfering. We give them the responsibility of doing chores without being asked by not asking if the chore is done and exacting a consequence if it is not. And we give them the responsibility of getting themselves up in the morning by refusing to be a human alarm clock and letting the child suffer the consequence of being late.

You get the picture. Parents, first expect your child to be or become responsible. Second, give your child the gift of responsibility at the age-appropriate time. Parents who do not do this, give the child a destructive message: “My parents don’t think I’m good enough or smart enough to do it on my own.”

Make your new parenting mantra “Less Stuff and More Responsibility.” Your children will thank you. (And if all parents gave their children less stuff and more responsibility we might help change our overly consumeristic and self-absorbed society!)

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