HELPING CHILDREN BECOME ''RESPONSE-ABLE''

"Timmy! Why are the trash cans still in the garage? How many times do I have to tell you-- it's your responsibility to take them out Thursday nights for collection."
"Look at all these dirty dinner dishes, Joanne! If they had legs they would run away! Who's responsible for making sure they stay home, young lady?"
"Again, Kevin? Now I have to drop everything and drive you! Why do I have to be responsible twice for your transportation-- -first by paying taxes and then after you miss the bus by driving you to school? What do I have to do for you to take responsibility, dress you the night before, pack lunch and have you sleep by the bus stop?”
Responsibility : Something "out there" that many parents expect children to own or take. Its an issue that frequently leads to war between parent and child. But responsibility doesn't exist out there by itself any more than relationship does. Consider that responsible actually means, "response-able" or, the ability to respond to a given situation in a specific manner.
Since responding is a behavior, the likelihood of it's occurrence is related to what follows: a consequence. Therefore, a child's ability to respond in a manner preferred by a parent is a function of positive, satisfying events which follow that behavior. Responsibility in children-- or anyone, for that matter-- is much more than simply performing pre-programmed tasks that are simply expected. An integral part of acting responsibly is what follows, thereby strengthening those behaviors: Praise, tangible "rewards", privileges, and ultimately, an internalized caring about how those designated responsible actions benefit you, and effect other people.
There are inevitably some people who resent having to reward kids for doing what is expected as this is simply "bribery." However, bribery, as defined by Webster, is issuing some form of payment for illicit acts. Only if you consider teaching children vital skills and activities of daily living to be illicit are you then bribing them! To help children become response-able, consider the following:


  • 1- Help them flex their responsible muscles. The road to adulthood is paved with many responsibilities. But an essential part of adulthood is learning to make useful decisions. And a prerequisite for this is learning to have choices-- flexibility! Teach children to respond in a way that helps them learn the value of selection. Rather than simply ordering a child to perform in some fashion because it's his (her) responsibility-- whatever that means-- create a list of things that you feel are important and have the child make selections. Think of it as a response menu. But remember, if you want a child to select what is healthy, you have to model that by doing the same! Have a family meeting in which you the parents also make selections, indicating that responsibility is for everyone.
  • 2- Catch flies with honey-- save the vinegar for your salad! The expression and concept behind it cannot be overstated. Few kids initially find making their beds or placing belongings in appropriate storage enjoyable. But if following such responsible behavior a parent notices and acknowledges it with praise or other rewards, it will most likely recur in the future. Moreover, responsible behaviors can be arranged ahead of time by "contracting" so that a given privilege or event is contingent upon the performance of some activity. Do you think your behavior operates any differently? How many parents rise early, frantically leave home, battle heavy traffic and spend eight or more hours performing some task for the fun of it?
  • 3- Consider "mistakes" to be "opportunities." Although good behaviors are strengthened by paying a lot of attention to them, undesirable ones are best eliminated by ignoring. Rather than attending to a child's errors, encourage the child to consider a more useful, incompatible behavior. That is, a desired behavior that could not have been performed at the precise moment the error occurred. In so doing, you are giving that child the opportunity to become able to respond in useful ways...just like his parents!