Any problem, big or small, within a family, always seems to start with bad communication. Someone isn’t listening. – Emma Thompson
I’ll admit it. My room was hardly ever clean. Clothes just never seemed to find their way into the laundry basket. To say the condition of my room was a point of contention between my mother and me would be an understatement. So was taking out the trash, cleaning the kitchen and almost any other job I had around the house.
Like all parents, my mother just wanted me to be responsible. But she went about it all wrong. Her main method of teaching me responsibility was to yell, ignore me when I did something right or criticize me when I made a mistake. She was teaching me exactly the wrong way to behave.
Like all kids, I was born to imitate the people around me. I yelled back at her, fumed and carried on in just the same way as she behaved towards me. I was anything but cooperative with her. I was indignant, even as a very small child, at being treated so badly. Constantly angry and stressed, I knew I would not be the same kind of parent to my own kids.
Was there anything my mother could have done to change the situation or were we doomed to be in conflict for all eternity? How could she have gotten me to cooperate? Were there better ways of teaching me responsibility? Yes! If you are stuck in the same cycle of conflict, is there anything you can do to make it better? Absolutely!
TAKE THE FIRST STEP: We, as parents, need to change our mindset when we get stuck in conflict, and remember that we are the parent – our child’s most important teacher. It is up to us to model appropriate behavior. Taking our role as parents seriously, we do more than avoid conflict. We model dependability and responsibility for our children.
REMEMBER KIDS ARE A WORK IN PROGRESS: Remember that our children are not our enemies. It can be really hard to feel the love when we’ve been frustrated with our child’s lack of responsibility for quite a while. It might help for us to remember that our children are not operating with a fully developed brain and don’t see things like we do. They need us to teach them. We should not just tell them to clean out the cat’s litter box or pick up the wet puppy pee pads. We should teach by modeling, correcting, modeling again.
MAKE EXPECTATIONS CLEAR: To this day I still do not understand why I got yelled at for the way I loaded the dishwasher. I remember trying hard to do it correctly – the small stuff on the top rack, big stuff on the bottom. Apparently, I fell short almost every time. How do I know? As soon as my mother checked how I’d loaded it, I was immediately on the receiving end of criticism and yelling. Furthermore, I was confused about where I’d gone wrong.
TREAT KIDS WITH RESPECT: It would have been better for both of us if she had taken a deep breath and then demonstrated how she wanted the dishwasher loaded – even if it was the 10th time she was showing me. She would have let me load a few dishes to make sure I knew what I was doing. This would have given me hands-on practice, which is what kids need when they are learning a task, and she could have corrected where I was still making errors.
By treating me with respect, I would have responded to her in the same way. In fact, the chances are that I would have been totally okay with doing all of my jobs. A little appreciation goes a long way.
IT’S NOT ABOUT THE TASK: We can give our kids allowance to help them understand money management, assign them to feed the dog, pick up their room, or any number of activities to foster their sense of responsibility. It is not really about the task or activity. At the heart of teaching our children to be responsible is communication, empathy, patience and understanding. When we model these behaviors for our children, chances are they will grow up to be responsible adults like us.
And by the way, I know how to load a dishwasher – my friends tell me they have never seen someone get so many dishes in so little space!
What about you.. how are you with imparting information to your kids? Do you slow down and explain why you want things done a certain way? Do you encourage them to ask questions for find their own way? If not, what could you do better?
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Jane Warren, a freelance writer, teaches consumers about pet care and popular products, including greenies dog chews. She provides money-saving tips and advice through her many articles on her blog, www.pamperthepets.com. International travel and water sports are her favorite pastimes.