No parent would say, "I want to raise an irresponsible child." That would be crazy, even heartbreaking, because an irresponsible person can not live a good life. So all parents do their best to teach responsibility, but it can be a very hard lesson to understand for
kids growing up in this crazy mixed up world.
Responsibility has to be learned according to the situations and circumstances we find ourselves in. Different
people may have different points of view about what the responsible thing to do is - for example which candidate to vote for in an election, how to resolve the national debt, or how to relate to other countries. However, everyone would probably agree that a responsible citizen votes, a responsible person tries to stay out of debt, and a responsible community member tries to keep peace (or even make good relationships) with their neighbors.
What does it mean to be responsible?
You can look up the dictionary definition yourself, but this is how I see it: RESPONSE - ABILITY, a person's ability to respond to situations and circumstances in a positive, productive and pro-active way. So let's look at the 3 P's a little more closely to see what they're about.
- Positive - meaning "yes, I will do something" or "yes, I can do something" or "yes, we will find a solution to this problem". Positive refers to the thought processes involved in seeing oneself as a person who can take action to create a beneficial effect. This takes self-confidence and the ability to see that even small actions have meaning and value.
- Productive - as opposed to destructive. The ability to act in a way that builds or produces something of value to oneself or others. Working to earn an income, studying to increase your abilities, and creating good relationships with others are all productive actions.
- Pro-active - the ability to act in advance in order to change or avoid an expected outcome. If you expect a rainstorm you will proactively close your windows in order to avoid water coming in and damaging your furnishings. Being pro-active is not usually this simple because it's much harder to predict future events or results than it is to predict the weather. However, getting a good education and saving money are good examples of being pro-active.
One thing I wish my parents had taught me is that life is not meant to be easy. If life were too easy there would be no growth, no challenge, no accomplishments. Through our own effort to overcome challenges we learn, grow to maturity, and create a life we can be proud of. With this attitude even our mistakes become stepping stones to better choices. Help your children use difficulties as an opportunity to learn and grow, and teach them to value the effort they make in the process.
Look For Teachable Moments
Day in and day out we influence the way our children think and behave weather we realize it or not. They interpret life according to their own personality, but what they hear us say, and see us do, does have an impact. Be aware of the moments that you can take advantage of to teach different aspects of being a responsible person. Here are some examples of teachable moments:
After grocery shopping with my two young children I realized I had left the store without paying for a drink I had consumed in the store. It would have been easy to ignore the oversight and drive away. Realizing that children see everything, I decided to go back in and pay for the drink. The cashier couldn't handle it so she called the manager. When I explained what happened to the manager, he shook my hand and thanked me and told me he wished there were more people like me in the world. He smiled at my children and told them they had a good mommy. Although I just wanted to show my children that they shouldn't take things without paying for them, I got more than I bargained for with this teachable moment.
When I was young my parents took us camping a lot and taught us about conservation and keeping the environment clean. When the first Earth Day was announced I gathered some friends and trash bags to go out picking up litter on the side of a busy road in our city. Someone called the newspaper and a reporter came out and did a story on us.
When my kids were young I tried to involve them in a lot of community service projects. During one of these events my daughter heard about an organization that would give grants to young people who wanted to start their own community service or business. She convinced some of her friends to help her apply for this grant to start a non-profit theatrical company that would perform in nursing homes. To apply for the grant they had to have an adult overseer, which I agreed to do because I thought it would be a good learning experience. She was 13, in Middle School at the time, when she applied for and received the start-up grant, but she continued the group through out high school. This experience also prepared her well to apply for colleges and scholarships.Sometimes our children's disappointments, frustrations and failures are also great opportunities to teach responsibility. The ability to pull yourself up, keep trying, persevere and be flexible are all part of being responsible for ourselves. Feel free to share some of your own teachable moments by leaving a comment.