How do I get them to stand on their own two feet? I get asked this question so often by parents whose children are done with university and still living a life of entitlement at home. This large group of young adults make little effort to help with household duties, contribute to the family’s financial or emotional well-being and are still struggling with time management.
Although these youth will have to learn the hard way, there is much we can do at home to instill a sense of responsibility and accountability when they are children. Here are some thoughts to ponder….
Aim high. Let us visualize the 15-year-old you wish to have standing by your side. What personality and character traits do you envision? Think of your own life and what skill set made you most effective? Was it only book knowledge that got you where you are today?
Most parents are surprised when they realize that their children spend most of their time honing their text book and social knowledge.
Consider accountability. What happens when your child has clearly veered off track or has genuinely made a mess of things? You could simply take the easy road and punish him/her through deprivation of a treat or freedom of some sort, but is that meeting the aim of a true life lesson in accountability? Give them the tools and instructions on how to fix it! If apologies are to be made, then let them do it! If an item needs to be replaced, then a selection of cost cutting measures should be suggested and put into action. If a deadline has been ignored, then allow them to ask for another one. Go with them, help with their language, make sure the situation is holistically safe, but do not do it for them, let them learn and grow through the experience.
Strategize responsibility. Children should be given tasks that are challenging but for which they are well prepared. The family should all be involved in setting the table, clearing and cleaning own rooms, making their own beds, helping with the laundry, and being involved in simple meal preparation tasks and much, much more. Often children take longer than us at these tasks and may not do it to our standards. The simple truth is that they are learning and can reach our levels of supposed perfection only if we guide lovingly and encourage. Children want to help out, but through discouragement and criticism often lose faith in their ability to be successful.
Allow controlled failure. We have lived through a lot of ups and downs and are often moved to advise our children against a situation before they have had a try at it themselves. In some carefully controlled situations when you already know the outcome will not be holistically dangerous, it may be a good idea to advise clearly and then step aside to let the matter unfold. It may be uncomfortable, but they will learn from it.
Help with time management and follow up strategies. A perfect tool for this is a large weekly schedule drawn onto a simple white board. Just like we keep a diary, our children need a reminder too. When you are their alarm clock, the responsibility never transfers over. By listing with them each day the task set for the week ahead, they have a large visual reminder in front of them. Children too young to read can have pictures or photographs of themselves tacked on in sequence. Make it a ritual to check the board together every afternoon and night to set the tasks for the afternoon and next day.
Praise for effort. There is much controversy on this topic. Some praise too little and some too much. A good barometer is effort. If true effort was made, however the outcome, praise should be made for effort.
All loving parents share one deep wish, that our children turn out to be happy, well adjusted, proactive adults, so all we can do is keep working toward that goal.
Founder and Academic Director,
Maria Montessori Teacher Training
Little Explorers Montessori Plus School