I’ll never forget the day one of my college students strolled into class, five minutes late, and reported to me why he’d been absent for three sessions in a row. His pet lizard’s tail had fallen off, and he had to take the lizard to the vet and then help nurse the lizard back to health. I was stunned. Never, in all of my years of teaching, had someone fed me an excuse so ridiculous.
Before becoming a work-at-home mom, I taught college writing courses for nine years. I heard many excuses as to why a student’s work was incomplete or they failed to turn it in at all. I bore witness to a whole lot of whining, teacher-blaming, and glaringly obvious entitlement. What was missing? Some students lacked humility, honesty, empathy, and independence. Where was their sense of ownership and personal accountability? What employer, in their right mind, would ever hire them? My experience taught me an important lesson that I carry with me now, as I parent my four children. I refuse to raise irresponsible, disrespectful kids.
Of course, being a parent is the hardest job in the universe. We’re supposed to raise little humans to become bigger, better humans. It’s cliché, but true. I don’t want my children to live in my basement playing video games when they are thirty years old because they lack motivation and a sense of responsibility. I don’t want them blaming others instead of working on self-improvement.
The good news? My kids are still under my roof and young enough to be (somewhat willingly) teachable. Here are habits I’m instilling in my kids right now so that they grow up to be responsible, independent adults:
Have kids do chores to teach teamwork and organizational skills.
This sounds so old school, but I promise that making your kids do their part, pull their weight, or whatever you want to call it, has some serious perks. Kids who do chores build their executive functioning abilities, meaning they’re able to organize their thoughts by thinking through the steps necessary to complete a task. Of course, some kids will need parental assistance and supervision, but you can gradually taper off with the help. Plus, it’s a win-win. The kids learn to take pride in a job well done, and you aren’t the family maid. (I repeat: you are not the family maid.) By having your children do chores, they’re learning that everyone is on a team should contribute for the greater good of all.
Give your kids options to build critical thinking skills.
Raising kids with a “my-way-or-the-highway” mindset isn’t going to teach them any critical thinking skills. Of course, you’re not going to run a free-for-all household where the kids rule the roost, either. Thankfully, there’s middle ground. Give your kids options within reason. Younger kids and kids with certain disabilities thrive better with fewer options, while other kids may be able to handle multiple choices. For example, you can let your child know that their chore for the day is to unload the dishwasher. They can choose when to do it, either before or after lunch. They can consider what they’d rather do first and why. Would they prefer to keep plowing through their distance-learning assignment or take a break and knock out their daily chore now? They can weigh the pros and cons, make their decision, and deal with the implications (positive or negative) of that choice.
Show your children how to apologize to enhance communication skills.
Honesty is key to healthy relationships. When you screw up, like lose your cool and yell at your kids, show them how to make amends. Offer an apology without excuse. It’s OK to tell your children, “I was overwhelmed with a deadline my boss gave me, and instead of pausing to answer your question about your schoolwork, I snapped. I’m sorry that I took my stress out on you.” Likewise, when your kids screw up, help them apologize to whomever they hurt. It’s simple. Say you’re sorry, say why you’re sorry, and move on. A sincere apology goes a long way in changing a negative household vibe into a positive one.
Prioritize mental health to teach children accountability.
We are all stressed right now, and those with pre-existing conditions like anxiety and depression might be even more triggered. Whether you have a mental health condition or not, social isolation and its responsibilities–like working from home and helping kids with e-learning–can take a toll on us all. Show your kids that everyone’s mental health matters. Take frequent breaks, go outside, do a yoga video, have a snack, journal, color, read, or whatever else brings a sense of peace and calmness. Remember, if you aren’t chill, your kids can’t be either. Prioritizing mental heath is a skill that can help your kids for the rest of their lives. We can’t always control what’s going on around us, but we can control what we do about it.
Practice connectivity to teach self-advocacy and problem-solving.
Practicing connective parenting has taught me that there is always a “why” behind a child’s behavior. If a child is struggling, parents can become detectives, helping their child discover the real problem rather than blame someone else for their feelings and behaviors. Plus, when we name the problem, such as feeling anxious because we overheard a troubling story on the news, we can make a proactive plan. (For example, keeping the television off to avoid the trigger.) Doing this teaches our children to ask for help, AKA: self-advocacy, and work alongside one another to solve a problem.
The reality is that none of these are one-time conversations or situations. Our kids need us to do our best to show and tell in everyday situations, consistently, in order to get the message. Since we’re sheltering in place right now, we have the opportunity to practice what we preach and intentionally work to raise our amazing kids to be independent and responsible adults.
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