Raising Responsible Children
Teaching Your Kids Life Skills
article by Cindy G Foust
Welcome, readers, to the September issue of BayouLife, which is based largely on fashion. (Pregnant pause) That’s it. (Another pregnant pause) That’s all I got on that subject.
I took a stab at it last year, but since many of my family and friends frequently remind me that I should be starring on So You Think You Can Dress, I’ll leave this month’s magazine preview to the authorities on fashion, clearly not me.
Meanwhile, I will do like I do many months, and ponder my column’s topic while I am washing dishes. Washing dishes you might ask? Like in a sink, with your hands? Yes, for those interested readers, my dishwasher has been out (let me reemphasis my frustration by shouting the letters O-U-T) for over a month. And let me qualify, the only two things I don’t put in my dishwasher are my children (well, except for my husband’s cast iron skillet, he gets real worked up over rusty skillets). Now, does anyone have the Maytag repairman’s number? I have been waiting patiently for three weeks for the “right part” to come in, and meanwhile, shopping for Palmolive so I can save my dishwater hands.
If it sounds like I’m being a “whiny-tail” (shout out to Bitsy), it’s because I am. I mean, am I the only one who has gotten accustomed to convenience? I bet not. Surely, however, I haven’t forgotten the days of my youth when we didn’t have a dishwasher? In the words of my dad, “Why should I buy a dishwasher, I have three!” For that matter, when my two sisters and I left home, my dad bought a dishwasher, a television with a remote control and a riding lawn mower. Go figure. Of course, changing channels wasn’t all that taxing in my day, since we only had three channels, but as usual, I’m chasing a rabbit and I forgot where the rabbit hole was. Oh….washing my dishes and pondering my column!
As I was saying, while I was getting “dish-pan hands” I got to thinking. I had to wash the dishes by hand when I was growing up. It didn’t kill me. I also had to mow the grass at the “Ponderosa” with a push mower. And for that matter, I had to dust and vacuum and make my bed. Yep, I survived all of that responsibility, too.
Fast forward thirty something years (that “something” variable can be anything in the age equation you want it to be), and we find ourselves as parents, working tirelessly to make sure we raise responsible children, right? Isn’t that every parent’s goal? Their dream? To raise children that are strong, independent and self-reliant? As I often say, my children are never far from my thoughts, as is the case with most parents, I am sure. If you are like my husband Scott and I, we worry about such things as what they will be when they grow up. Do they wash their hands after they use the bathroom? Do they floss after they brush? Do their socks match their shirts (now there’s a fashion tip for you, it just came to me from the fashion gods out of nowhere)? Do they eat their peas and carrots? All these worries are valid, but who am I kidding? An attribute we can instill in our children, that’s as equally important is responsibility. Why? Because responsibility will be an attribute that will spill over into every facet of their life when they are adults. This character building quality will make them more independent and self-reliant, for times when we, their parents, can’t be there. Sounds good in theory, but practically, how do we get there?
As I like to do when I write this column, I pulled out the imaginary report card to grade Scott and me on the job we are doing with our kids. I especially like to grade us after I do the obligatory research, and of course, call in the experts. So what did I find? First and foremost, teaching responsibility is more about attitude than it is completing a task. It’s the idea of doing things for yourself and not waiting on your parents or someone else to do it for you. You know, taking initiative. Hmmm…that practical application can be noted with chores, school work, sports or anything extra-curricular. It’s also about teaching them life skills that will enable them to become contributing members of society, maintain their jobs, and be able to help take care of their own family one day.
Good grief, how did I get from a broken dishwasher to this place? I’m not sure, but the more I read, the more important I felt the message was. Research is overwhelmingly consistent that says children who have no responsibility when they are growing up, reach their adult years with an attitude of entitlement and thinking the world owes them something. Holy cow…starting tomorrow, my kids are making their beds every day! I jest of course, but where do we start?
First, my research says you should start young. I don’t think anyone expects their toddler to make their own sandwich, but making a game of putting their toys away is a subtle way to start. Second, let them help you. Again, children learn their colors early, so teach them to sort the laundry by the lights and the darks. Or if you are in the kitchen, let them help you make the snacks. Third, be the example. For instance, if you put your plate in the sink, encourage your children to do the same. Or put your dirty clothes in the laundry hamper and encourage them to do the same. Fourth, praise your children for their efforts. Everyone, no matter their age, likes to be complimented or encouraged for their efforts. This actually, is my favorite, because in my line of work, I see the effect praise has on a child’s self-confidence. Which leads right into the fifth tip, and that’s managing your adult expectations. If your five-year-old makes their bed, unless their dad is a military sergeant, it will be lopsided. There is no room for criticism! Simply recognize their efforts, rather than walking in the room with a quarter to see if it bounces off the bed! Sixth, and I was surprised at this one, but refrain from giving rewards. The experts say that a reward system does not have to be in place for children to learn responsibility. They say you should save rewards for when your child goes above and beyond their normal responsibilities. Finally, you must teach consequences. Ugh! This is the hardest one for me. But the logic is spot on that parents’ cannot be afraid to let their child suffer or experience anger or sadness. If a parent always solves their child’s problems, they will not be responsible when they grow up.
So there you have it, more pearls of parenting that started with my dishwasher being out. I know many of our readers, like myself, have high school kids, and may be thinking it’s too late to “reform” your child. In my opinion, it’s never too late to educate. I’m not sure how often my son will make his bed in college, but a few days ago, my family was enjoying dessert at my parent’s house, and my son walked in the living room and picked everyone’s plate up and went and put it in the sink. I looked at my mom. She looked at me. I bit my lip. She hid a smile. I assumed he had gotten a speeding ticket or failed a test on the second day of school, but alas, dare we hope, that some of those pearls have just simply seeped in?
It is my hope through this month’s column that our readers will be validated in their current efforts with their older children or encouraged to sharpen their parenting skills with their younger ones. Sadly, a parenting manual doesn’t come home from the hospital with your newborn, and we all just try to do the best we can. But most of us share these same goals and have high expectations and dreams for our children. There is nothing wrong with working responsibility into your children’s lives, even with the simplest of tasks such as picking their underwear up off the floor. Underwear, of course, that color coordinates with their outfit that day, which is another fashion tip that just came out of nowhere.
Thank you, BayouLife readers for allowing me to form this sort of co-parenting relationship with you. Each column I write like this certainly gives me the opportunity to enhance my own parenting skills. And maybe, somehow, in some small way, penetrate the conscience of someone who knows how to fix dishwashers, and they will make their way to my house with a dishwasher pump. That would be great.