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Teaching Responsibility and Independence to Your Children

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 “The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.”                                                                                                                                                                                                               

~Denis Waitley

This is a pretty powerful quote. But it’s truly a gift that is important to their future success in life.

Much as I want to hold my kids hands and navigate them through life’s rough patches, I think it’s far better to teach them to be independent and to take responsibility for their actions. I don’t remember everything from my childhood, but I know that if I got in trouble in the classroom, my parents wanted to know what I DID. Not what the teacher did. It didn’t matter what the teacher did, they were right. No matter what. Fast forward 30+ years. Today, things are different. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for parents to take their kid’s side over the teacher’s. We play the “blame game” a lot, and unfortunately our kids are learning from this mentality. I’m not going to say I’ve never come to the defense of my kids, because I have. But I think we need to remember kids are kids, and they can, and do, stretch the truth a bit. I know I stretched (okay maybe sometimes downright distorted) the truth in order to avoid getting in trouble. (It didn’t usually work for me.) Remember those days?

Learning to take responsibility starts when they are young. Take school projects for example. You can definitely tell my kids made their projects by themselves. Same thing with homework. If they ask, we’ll help or proofread or look things over, but we don’t monitor homework. Most of the time we’re so busy we don’t even ask if they have any. Maybe it’s not the best way of doing things, but it’s worked out pretty well for us. Sure, there’s been a grade here and there that could of been better. But in the long run, I think it’s probably better to teach them the importance of taking responsibility for their work now when it doesn’t count all that much, than later, when it does.

My youngest son recently had to do a project for one of his classes, and they had a choice of a variety of things. He chose to write a myth. I was surprised he picked it because he doesn’t like to write. But I wasn’t going to discourage him from the project he picked because I thought it would be a harder project for him. He didn’t ask me for help…I actually didn’t even know when it was due. (For the record, I would have helped if he had asked.) A couple weeks ago, he came home disappointed…apparently he got a B on the project. He was a little concerned that it’s going to mess up his grade. Maybe it will, but I don’t particularly care. What I do care about is that he picked a project and he completed it on his own. It’s not like my children’s grades right now are going to affect their future job prospects. That said, I do want them to work hard to get good grades, but I’m never going to be upset as long as they gave it their all. I do get that some kids need a more prodding than others…but I think we do our kids a disservice as soon as the project ceases to be theirs and becomes more of ours.

My oldest son goes to a private high school. He made the decision to apply there because he felt like he would benefit from a smaller class size. It’s been a great experience in terms of that. This year, he decided that he would be happier at a different school, which is even smaller, and is all boys. My husband and I have ties to the school he’s at, so this was not easy for us to hear. We told him if he wanted to apply, he had to do everything himself…all the paperwork, etc. Honestly, we didn’t think he’d get it done. We were wrong. He took care of everything himself and only came to us for a few things he actually needed us for. I don’t know what is going to happen yet…we haven’t received word whether he’s been accepted and no final decision has been made…but regardless of the outcome, I am really proud of the fact that he took the initiative to do something that he feels is important to him.

teentravelerOf course, once kids learn to handle responsibility well, it’s time to start giving them more freedom to spread their wings. This is tough, because as parents, we want to be there to make sure our kids are safe at all times. I was terrified when let my 13 year old daughter fly cross country by herself. Everything that could go wrong did. She got bumped on her way home, waited hours in the airport, and finally got on a flight coming into a completely different airport in the wee hours of the morning. But she handled it with poise and maturity. Clearly, she was ready for the experience, even if I wasn’t ready for her to have it. I’m nervous every time my kids walk downtown or head out to the ski slopes with friends. I make them bring their phones, and I make them check in. I have to admit when I first started giving them little freedoms, I was a bit overboard on the check-ins. “You have to call me every half hour,” I’d say and the eye rolls would start. Our parents didn’t have that option…we were gone hours on end without checking in. Whatever did we do without cell phones?!

The bottom line is I want my kids to know how to make decisions by themselves, and for themselves…I want them to be able to handle adversity. At some point, they’ll be off on their own, and I want to feel secure in that they can handle whatever comes their way! I’ve made mistakes along the way, and so have they. But hopefully they’ll be ready for the challenges they are going to face ahead.

How do you teach your kids to be responsible? When did you start giving them more freedom to do things without you?