Every morning, it was the same thing. At 6:00am, Cole’s mother would turn on the light, touch his brown hair, and say, “It’s time to get up for school. It’s going to be a great day.” Fifteen minutes later, his father would climb the stairs to tell him breakfast was ready, but instead of being awake, Cole had closed his eyes just one more time and fallen soundly asleep. Tensions mounted minute by minute, day by day, and year by year, as Cole’s parents shouldered the responsibility for getting him to school on time. Things worsened as he became older, and his parents wondered if he would ever take responsibility for anything. His parents had rescued him since before he had begun school; unfortunately, 10 years later, Cole continues to depend on his parents to rescue him on term papers, projects, and other things he is capable of doing independently. He needs reminder after reminder to accomplish the simplest task.
If you are a parent, life need not be a series of reminders and power struggles. It doesn’t matter what age your child is (although the younger you start, the better). It is never too late to help your child develop responsibility. First, teach your child to help him or herself. If she’s 7, and doesn’t get up and get dressed when called, make sure she goes to be an hour earlier so she can be rested the next morning. If she’s 17, do the same thing. Teenagers and children all like to stay up late, but it is a privilege they should be capable of handling when they earn it. Going to sleep early is a logical consequence if a child or an adult has difficulty being awakened in the morning. Understanding logical consequences helps your child to develop responsibility, which increases independence, self-esteem, and maturity.
Second, teach your child to help your family. All children and adults crave a sense of belonging, especially to a family, whether it is a traditional family or not. The sense of belonging only comes when one contributes to and participates in the daily upkeep that a family requires. You are not doing a favor for your children if you are completing all the house and yard duties. Many parents perform all the household chores because it is faster and less of a struggle, but even very young children can participate in the daily maintenance of a home. The message this sends to your children is that they are a vital part and important contributor to the family and that you need their help just like they need yours.
Be specific with your children about what needs to be done and what you expect; in addition, list steps and details and post them inside doors and cabinets for easy reference. This way, there is no chance of miscommunication about your expectations; additionally, you can fairly measure whether your child was responsible with what needed to be done. Follow through with your child. Praise what was done well; have logical consequences for that which was not done.
When your child learns to take care of his or her own needs and participates in the teamwork necessary for a busy family to survive, the foundation is laid for maturity and the demands of adulthood. With reasonable expectations and logical consequences, children are more likely to be happy, well-adjusted, empathetic people who grow up to be responsible, considerate, and successful adults.