Introducing Responsibility to Kids

Kids being kids, like what they all agree, are strong absorbing sponges that will soak up any liquid substances in contact with it. I maintain the parents play a key role in shaping their child's mentality. The parents influence the quality of what the sponge soaks up. I have to keep reminding myself to select the right choice of words to tell my 4 year old daughter in order to drum the correct mindset across. Most critically, walking the talk and do what I said for her to witness 'Action speaks louder than words' in motion.

I want to teach her responsibility at a young age. Not English, not A-Maths. I don't care if she could read or spell bombastic words, though I was surprised she could spell a list of 3-letter words all of a sudden lately. Sure, I encourage Albany to read and learn from books. I read to her when she ask, despite reading aloud is never my kind of thing. However what I focus on, on everyday basis, is to instill a natural sense of responsibility in her. She has always been very keen to try new stuff and help the others (for example, helping Stephen to push his mixer as shown on left)

When it comes to learning about responsibility, I grew up on the wrong side of things so I know all about it. My sense of responsibility was non-existent well into my adulthood, which made NS a torture and taking over the reins from my father as the man of the household was daunting. Even during NS, where boys are supposed to turn into men, many responsibilities were regarded as punishments or liabilities and ability to shirk them was seen as pure genius most of the time rather than being frowned upon.

I find that a lot of these mindset in people is formed by how their parents run the household. Due to that belief, I rarely waste my time engaging in the obnoxious habit of telling friends with younger kids than mine how to raise their kids. Instead, I tend to talk to parents with kids older than my own, to learn from their mistakes, sometimes on their own admission upon reflection, sometimes from my observations. That way, I have a chance to better deal with similar situations when my child reaches that stage, with a methodology framework fine tuned to suit our needs. 

Case study 1:  A primary school kid loses her mobile phone and ask her dad for a replacement, offering to do housework for X number of days for it. Is that a Yes or a No for you? How will your decision impact the child's mindset?

Case study 2: A 4 year old kid drops her soft-serve cone and comes wailing to daddy, threatening to howl the moon down if he does make things 'right' by buying her a new one straightaway.

Case study 3: A kid being told she will get desserts if she pack away the mess she created with her toys.

To most parents, the decision to make their decisions in the respective case studies come naturally, most of the time without much thought being put into it. How else can parents trigger actions of their desire from their children if a reward/punish system is not in place? These are things I spent thinking during my long drives back home after work if I wasn't having a conversation with my mother. It is all about the right choice of words, sending the precise message, setting the mindset right and repeat.

Gradually, I stop telling Albany, if she bathes after she comes back from school, Daddy will give her afternoon tea. The new message, "Bath, because you have to. By yourself, because you can," in any form of endearing words in accordance to her mood, taking care to stop associating afternoon tea with her bath entirely. Occasionally she will still whine for attention. She is still 4, I cannot expect a 100% consistency from her at this age. At times, she will still want Daddy to dry and comb her hair, citing she 'don't know how to' when she clearly doesn't want to be alone in the bathroom. We still celebrate each time she complete the entire bathing, getting dry, wearing of clothes and putting worn ones into the laundry basket package like a victory. I am proud of her.

On the same note, the growing girl has to understand taking care of her toys, especially when she like calling them 'hers', is not just about possessing them but also about keeping them neat and tidy at the end of the day. I stress to her often enough that unlike Mummy who suspend her toys for a week if she doesn't take care of them, I will simply throw them away. There is no second chance, like many things in life. The early heartbreaks will teach her to treasure her belongings, for there is no convenient replacement options should she loses any.

None of a child's or teen's personal responsibilities should not be associated to rewards or punishments. It is what they have to do, like a man making a living as his responsibility to support his family. It is not a punishment for marriage. (or is it? hmm.) As part of the family, it is essential for children to help out in the household. My mother used to shoo us out of the kitchen because we "should be spending time studying" (which we didn't, of course) or we will "mess up the job instead" (and we ended up messing up another place). Not only should we encourage kids to take part in household chores, we should assign them some to be done at stipulated time. It doesn't have to take up a chunk of their precious time that most parents will prefer to dedicate to homework, tuition or other activities parent paid to have them learn. If we look at it at a broader point of view, our kids do not exist to do homework or score As in exams. They are living things not puppets, who are fully capable to think critically, form a perspective or learn things their parents cannot. Academic excellence cannot be made their sole responsibility, unless the intention is not to raise sensible human being but an answering machine.

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