How many times have you moaned at your child, “Why are you late/messy/losing things? Be more responsible!”? After all, your child has to learn these things as they grow up, right?
Says family life educator James Satchy, “Responsibility may be too broad a concept for a child. It needs to be broken down into specific, doable actions for the child to understand.” These can then be learned as a habit.
So if, for example, he says, you want to teach your child that a responsible child cleans up after themselves, start with a small job: Put your dishes in the sink once done.
To make it clearer, you can add a time element: After meals.
Then, when your child does it, you have to do your part — compliment their performance of the action. “Thank you, that was responsible of you!”
This sort of acknowledgement of right action plus positive reinforcement can help inspire more of the same behaviour!
“Responsibility may be too broad a concept for a child. It needs to be broken down into specific, doable actions…”
But what happens when your child doesn’t do it? Obviously, when you’ve just started this “training”, you’ll have to remind them a few times. But when they don’t do it more often, you should discuss what they should have done with them — don’t just scold them. Satchy suggests that you make sure the conversation go something like:
You: “What are you supposed to do after dinner?”
Child: “Don’t know.”
You: “Where are the dishes supposed to go?”
You: “Thanks, you are learning how to be responsible!” (As your child brings the dishes to the sink)…
Satchy helps you create a basic framework to break things down into simple tasks for your youngster…
You should think of the smaller steps that make up the big idea, explains Satchy.
For instance: A responsible child takes care of themselves.
Satchy says, “This is good but still too vague. You need to break it down into specific actions for your child.”
Say, for instance, a responsible child:
• Takes care of their possessions.
• Takes care of their hygiene.
• Takes care of their health.
Like you, your child responds best when they can see how their efforts pay off! So using one example from above:
Responsible children take care of their hygiene
You break it down to this basic step...
How: Brush your teeth.
When: In the morning and at night before sleeping.
When done: You check and compliment your child until it becomes an automatic habit.
Measure success: If the child is finding it hard to kickstart a habit, find a space to hang up a chart or board and let junior put up stickers or ticks each time that action is done. Or give them a jar somewhere all can see and give them a coloured star to put into it each time they do it. These actions also teaches responsibility!
But will your child do this? Yes, because…
Reward: At the end of the week your child gets a simple reward like extra play time or ice-cream or a sweets (since now they brush their teeth, they earn the right to eat these once in a while).
Gradually, you can make the reward harder to get. For example: from one week of daily brushing you can extend it to two weeks of daily brushing. Hopefully, by the time it comes to three weeks of daily brushing, your child would have established a habit already and you can stop the reward.
Other simple breakdowns include:
1) Doing homework regularly
How: Child pastes schedule somewhere the parent (you) can see.
When done: Highlight, cross out or mark your study times when done. (Don’t be tempted to spot check your child to ensure no cheating — that creates distrust. Put your faith in your child, and let them know “I am proud of your honesty and no cheating.”)
When: Whenever you completed your study commitment.
Measure: Count the number of hours you studied in a week and celebrate with parent or alone (reward time!)
2) Manage their time
How: Child marks out a realistic length of time to do homework (discuss with parent).
When: Do homework before playing. When they’ve finished that task, show you the work (or give you a text or phone call to notify you); this is another spot of responsibility that can be developed!
When done: Go play!
Measure: Your child gets instant gratification from this one (PLAYTIME!) but you may also want to negotiate a treat once a week.
3) Clarifies things for their own learning
How: Asks the person (teacher or mummy or daddy or grandma) politely, “I am not sure how to do…”
When: Whenever child is not sure how to do a task or is unclear about the rule.
When done: Thank the explainer, if you understand. But if you still don’t quite get it, ask again, politely.
Goal: Ask whenever in doubt even if fearful or embarassed.
Measure: Every time you clarified an instruction, tell your parents about it (just to kick-start the habit for the shyer ones).
But how do I make sure that my child does this? Click on…
The best way to make sure you child actually does what you want isn’t to use physical rewards, which could be thought of as bribes (and might teach your child to be manipulative). It’s better to use positive verbals and non-verbals to reinforce your child’s actions.
Satchy explains, “Whenever your child does a responsible action, no matter how small, acknowledge it with words or attention. Look for actions that you want them to do more of and give them more verbal and non-verbal affirmation.”
So this could include telling them, “Good job, girl! You were did well to finish all your homework before watching TV. I’m so encouraged.” Or “Son, I’m so proud you asked Mrs Tan when you did not understand the maths question. That is being responsible for your learning.”
“Look for actions that you want them to do more of and give them more verbal and non-verbal affirmation.”
However, he warns parents, “Don’t just say ‘good job!’ — tell them why it was a responsible act. Keep it short and succinct. Make sure the WHAT they did is there and the WHY it is ‘being responsible’ is there. You can add HOW it encourages you too!”
If you are not specific in your praise or compliments, your child will find you insincere and your praise hollow after a while.
Also, if you are overusing the word “responsible” then, just praise them for the action. The idea here is to provide some external acknowledgement until the habit is formed.
Does that mean you keep praising them forever? No, says Satchy. “Once your child displays a certain responsible action continuously and it is becoming a habit, you can withhold some of the praise — praise him as and when appropriate.
“By this time he is no longer doing it for your affirmation but because the responsible action has been internalised.”
Singapore Parenting Congress 2016 is co-organised by Mediacorp and Families For Life. Official media SmartParents.