Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Well folks, guess who is the newest (and only) "staff writer" for the neighborhood newsletter?  That's right.  You guessed it.  Moi.  Pretty cool, right?

I thought I would share an article I wrote for the spring edition:

Raising Responsible Children

My husband and I were recently discussing how we could encourage our kids to take more responsibility for their actions. As we picked up Cheerios from the dining room floor and scrubbed food marks off the walls, our conversation focused on how to determine the appropriate level of discipline and instruction necessary in dealing with our three- and five-year-old children. How do we raise responsible children while promoting our family’s version of the “happy medium”?

A few days after our discussion, I received an invitation to a lecture, “Raising Responsible Children,” at Concord-St. Andrew’s Cooperative Nursery School. The speaker, Robyn Des Roches, is a certified parent educator with the Parent Encouragement Program (PEP) based in Kensington, MD. Having taken a few parenting classes with PEP last winter, I knew I should take advantage of this timely opportunity.

The discussion started off with a review of what responsibility means in today’s society. While responsibility used to mean obedience, it now refers to “a process of making choices and then accepting the consequences of those choices.” Ms. Des Roches explained that every child needs to belong and to have a sense of purpose. By providing our children with positive and constructive roles around the home, we are able to harness the enthusiasm young children naturally have and take advantage of the ages when they are most motivated to help (between two and four). Children used to have a lot more stake and responsibility in the day to day operations of the home and by giving them valuable roles, we are giving them a sense of self worth and ownership.

According to Ms. Des Roches, the real goals of family work are competence, contribution, cooperation, confidence and independence. While we as parents are not exactly “lightening” our work load by getting our children involved, we are encouraging our kids to develop these amazing qualities. We are helping them see outside of themselves; an important skill, no doubt.

Here are a few basic guidelines parents can follow:

• Never do for a child what he can do for himself

My three-year-old son loves to help get the oatmeal ready for breakfast every morning. The day of the lecture, I had gone ahead and made the oatmeal before he came downstairs to help (I was running late). When he saw I had made everyone’s breakfast, he proceeded to have a melt-down of epic proportions. I had stolen his thunder. He loves to help out, and I took away a job that made him feel independent and useful.

As parents, we should be focusing on the process and effort, not the final product. That means we can throw our ideals of perfection out the window (adopt the “good enough” standard), and allow the process to become fun, not something we have to do.

After the oatmeal debacle, and still running behind schedule, I made another parenting faux pas. I jumped in to tie my daughter’s shoe laces because she was taking too long. She could do it for herself, but I took over the job because I am faster.

Ms. Des Roches discussed how parents should be encouraging their kids to help at every opportunity, even if it slows everyone down. Not to blow the shoe laces out of proportion, but by taking over a task my daughter is mastering, I was sending her a message that she wasn’t good enough (although at the time I was truly just in a rush and running short on patience).

Parents should teach their kids to make friends with mistakes. We are not perfect; nor are they. It is only natural to want to shield our children from unhappiness, but kids need to be allowed to experience struggle and negative emotions. Learning how to deal with these difficult emotions and scenarios allows them to become stronger.

• Use consequences (instead of punishment) and problem solving

As the old saying goes, experience is the best teacher. Let your kids make mistakes and allow “natural” consequences to teach. Consequences should be related, reasonable, respectful and helpful.

I’ll be the first to admit that I find it much easier to yell off a list of random punishments in the heat of the moment, but in the long term it is best to allow the kids to learn from their experiences in a more logical and less emotional way. For example, if your kids are playing around at bath/bed time and not cooperating, a natural consequence is that there is not enough time for stories before bed. They made their choice and have to live with the consequences of their actions.

• Allow time for training

Sometimes I forget that my kids weren’t born knowing how to do everything. I’ll be the first to admit that I can have a pretty unreasonable level of expectation when it comes to the skills and abilities I think they should already posses.

In reality, kids need to be trained how to complete a task. As Ms. Des Roches explained, it is up to us as their parents to choose the right time for this training, use routines and to break tasks down into smaller parts. I was surprised to learn that it takes a child two years to master a skill. Considering my son just turned three, perhaps I should be lightening up a bit.

• Beware of power struggles (don’t come on too strong)

It is helpful to change up jobs once a week and to offer choices in how and when to tackle a chore. It is not whether our kids will do the job, but how they will do it. This allows them to feel like they have a choice and helps us all avoid power struggles.

Instead of using non-specific praise (like good job!), we should try to express detailed appreciation for help provided (thank you for loading the dish washer!). If our kids know exactly what they did well, they will be more encouraged to do it again.

Leaving the lecture I felt slightly less overwhelmed by the heavy responsibilities of parenting. While I would not say any of this is easy, it certainly is helpful to have a few guidelines to follow when dealing with the daily challenge of raising responsible kids.

Next time we’ll have our children pick up those Cheerios and scrub the dining room walls.

To find out more about the Parent Encouragement Program (PEP) or to register for classes, please visit www.PEPparenting.org or call 301.929.8824.

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