There may be days when you wonder whether your middle-schooler will ever be independent.
Will he be 35 and still incapable of remembering to put the toilet seat down?
Will you still be delivering her forgotten lunches when she works as a corporate lawyer in her 40’s?
Surely at least one sock will eventually make it into the dirty clothes hamper… right?
There are so many life skills we have to teach our children before they leave us to become adults. Providing the structure and safe place for them to practice (and even fail) while they develop this ability is vital for their long-term development.
Here are some ways to help and encourage them to take the initiative to cultivate their independence.
Build Your Toolbox
Timers – Timers are great way to help your kids be responsible, for smaller tasks that needed to do in an hour or less. If you have given them a phone, have them use the timer function. In the beginning, set yours for the same time so you can be sure they are responding when it goes off. There are inexpensive digital kitchen timers available in many stores and online. You can even find them at some local stores.
Most ovens also have a built-in timer function that you can use without turning on the heating element. Even an analog ‘egg timer’ that ticks the seconds and minutes away can be helpful as the sound itself may remind your child to remain focused on his task.
Paper Calendars and Personal Planners – For longer-term projects and appointments, do not underestimate the usefulness of calendars and planners. This tools can help you make your kids take responsibilities for themselves.
If you still don’t have it, add a family calendar in a prominent place where everyone can access it. Expect each family member to be responsible for adding all of their own events on the color chosen that is assigned to them. The act of writing it down ties them to that responsibility.
In addition to the larger family calendar, equipped everyone with smaller personal planners. Have informal planning parties where you share snacks or have a game night once a month after spending a little time looking at the weeks ahead and updating all your planners.
If your child is particularly artistic or enjoys crafting, you might even consider doing bullet journaling together. Its a way of planning that makes calendars and checklists very personalized and emphasizes a healthy outlet for creativity.
Checklists – When a task seems monumental, people often freeze, avoiding the task completely rather than approaching it with a well-formed plan. Checklists are particularly handy for breaking down responsibilities into smaller, more manageable portions that will provide them a quicker sense of accomplishment, leading them to increase productivity. This will help your kids on this responsibility-training time.
Consider combining a checklist with a calendar or planner, especially for school projects or other long-term goals, spacing the smaller goals of the project into bite-sized, easily-managed chunks.
Chore and Sticker Charts – If your child needs help to remember weekly or daily routines, you may want to use sticker charts. This will be a helpful tool to make them responsible, especially when they already used it when they were younger.
Any chart will do, but basically, you’ll need a column for the name of the activity or chore and a place to physically check off the completed activities each day of the week. Don’t require them to actually use stickers, but note that many kids this age (and a lot older) secretly love the nostalgia of stickers, so have some small ones on hand just in case.
Take It Slow and Be Consistent
Once you have decided on a method, set up a system together. Oversee it for several weeks, being sure you both agree on what the successfully completed task should look like.
When they seem to understand and are able to handle the task without your guidance, give them the opportunity to practice without your help, backing off slowly. The key here is to gradually expecting him or her to take the lead more and more until it is fully their responsibility.
When you see that the habit has been fully established, you can check it every week, then every few weeks, and every few months just to make sure they are really maintaining the habit of keeping track of their own responsibilities.
Throughout the process, consistency is key. Don’t tell them they are responsible to pick up after themselves, then follow them around doing it for them. Once you’ve established that it’s their responsibility, there should be a natural consequence if they fail to do it.
For example, returning to the socks in the hamper issue, if they continue leaving their socks everywhere, they will eventually run out of clean socks and have to either wear dirty ones or go without for the day.
Play the role of Coach
There are life skills we sometimes assume that our kids would picked up from us, but you shouldn’t assume your child knows to do anything you haven’t intentionally taught them. In fact, it’s likely you will have to teach them new skills more than once.
Finally, your role as the coach is to ask thought-provoking questions and reinforce good behaviors.
Here are some questions you can start to use immediately:
- Are you proud of the way you responded to that?
- What would you do differently if you could do that over?
- How do you think your actions made Sally feel?
- Do you feel good about how you handled that?
- How did you handle the situation?
Comments that inspire responsible behaviors like:
- I love who you are becoming.
- You owned that like a boss.
- Great job stepping up today.
- You are a responsible kid.
- You are really good at …..
For most children learning responsibility is something they need to learn, just like riding a bike. A few things to keep in mind when teaching responsibility: give them the tools to be successful, be patient and consistent, and coach them. Ultimately your voice as a parent becomes their inner voice. Remember to use positive words when they show ownership and responsibility as you will continue to see those responsible behaviors and actions. Give them the tools to be successful and the inspiration to grow.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Leslie is the ‘mom behind the keyboard at Super Mom Picks, a parenting tips, ideas, and product reviews blog. She is a full-time working mom who has a passion for improving her family’s health, happiness, intellect, and overall quality of life experiences.