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Teach Your Kids To be More Responsible

by Bill Denny

"Dad, Dad, you've gotta come," pleaded my ten-year-old son.

"Don't bother me. Can't you see I'm trying to say good-bye to Mom?"

My four sons, along with my brother-in-law and his three children, had met at the airport to see our wives off to a Christian music confer­ence. The two women were about to board the plane when my son ar­rived breathlessly on the scene.

"But Dad, it's important I You have to come see what David and I did," he insisted.

The airport was undergoing a major renovation, so as Bruce and I walked down the makeshift plywood corridor with its small windows, he tearfully explained. "David and I were taking turns jumping up to see who could touch the highest spot on the window. I hit it too hard and it broke."

After checking to see that he was not injured, I lost my cool. "For pete’s sake," I yelled, "we're here to see Mom off on her trip, and you guys are running through the airport breaking windows. Now get back with the rest of us where you belong, and when we get home I'm going to give you a spanking."

The car was unusually quiet as we drove home, and as my anger began to cool, I had time to think. Why had I gotten so angry? Why had I told Bruce that I was going to spank him? What would spanking teach him in this situation? How could I redo the whole situation in such a way that my son would learn something? What could I do with all my anger at him?

At the house, Bruce went up to his room and shut the door. I went to my room to think and pray a bit more. I emerged shortly and headed up to Bruce's room.

Bruce," I said, sitting down on the edge of his bed, "I'm sorry I got so angry at you. I was out of line and I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?"

"Sure, Dad," he quickly replied. "Are you still going to spank me?"

"No, I was wrong there, too. You see, it was an accident. Break­ing the window was wrong, but it was not intentionally disobedient. You know," I continued, "if I had broken the window, no one would have yelled at me, and no one would spank me. I would just have to pay for the damage I had done. That's how it is in the world. When you break or destroy someone else's property, you have to be responsi­ble and pay for it. I have decided that is what you can do. When we go back in a few days to get Mom, we will stop at the security guard's sta­tion, and you can tell him what you did and offer to pay for the win­dow."

I was amazed to watch his expression as I talked. It all made sense to him. Of course, he was delighted to learn that the spanking would not be forthcoming, but it was more satisfying to him to have me take a rational approach in his discipline. He was more than happy to go along with my plan.

I even teased him a little by telling him that after we discovered how much the window cost, he could break all of them that he wanted to pay for. "That's okay, Dad," he quickly responded, "one will be enough for this time."

Teaching children responsibility at an early age is not the easiest job in the world, but it certainly is easier than trying to reach them when they are older. Not only is the teaching job more difficult, but the consequences the individual suffers for lack of responsibility get in­creasingly severe as he or she gets older. The consequences that a three-year-old experiences when he does not pick up a toy when asked is certainly much less than the consequences suffered by a sixteen ­year-old girl who finds herself pregnant due to wrong and irresponsible behavior.

Children can learn to be accountable and trustworthy. If we pro­duce little robots who are merely conforming to parents' demands, we are not teaching our children to assume personal responsibility for their actions and choices. Children can learn to obey parents because they want to, and because they have discovered that it pays to obey and costs to disobey.

Here are some ideas you might find useful:

1. Set guidelines and limits.

Let your children know exactly where the boundaries are, when curfew is, what is meant by "pick up your room" and what is acceptable behavior with the cat.

Often as parents we don't give very clear guidelines, and then we get upset when the children don't read our minds and fall into line. That produces great frustration for both the parent and the child. Involve the children in the process of determining the rules that they are to live by. They will be more apt to go along with them because they own them.

2. Establish a consequence for violating a rule.

One of the biggest mistakes parents make is that they often give rules, but they don't, at the same time, give the consequence for any in­fraction of the rules. That leaves the child with a great dilemma. The child doesn't know exactly what will happen if he or she breaks the rules, therefore the child can't make a clear choice to "obey" or "pay."

This is the way God deals with us as His children. He does not force us to obey Him, but He does tell us that if we do, we will experi­ence His blessings; and if we don't, we will suffer the consequences.

Make the consequence fit the behavior as much as possible. When Bruce broke the window, the consequence was to pay for the window. If your son's irresponsible behavior involves the car, some loss of car privileges for a specified time would be appropriate. Yelling at the kid and telling him what a jerk he is will only provoke him to anger, and the cycle of disobedience builds.

3. Model responsible behavior.

When you are stopped by the police for speeding, don't try to con the officer by giving him all the excuses for your irresponsible behav­ior. Let your children see that you pay for your wrong choices, just as they do.

4. Give choices to the children.

Let your children know that they have a choice to either obey and experience the joy in that behavior, or disobey and suffer the conse­quences. Both choices are open to them.

As parents, you probably will have a difficult time forcing your children to stay inside the boundaries. That will run you ragged. Rather, spend your energy setting up the family rules, establishing the consequences, and then carrying out the consequences. You can do that. If you do, you will have a much greater sense of being in control of the children. Your own anger and frustration, and theirs, will also be less

5. Do not protect the child from the consequence

Let the kid experience the full effect of the pre-established conse­quences. If you shield him or her from the consequences, you might as well not have any. Then both you and the child lose.

6. Give the child freedom to blow it.

Can you give your child the freedom to fail? Ouch! That hurts, doesn't it? Let him or her fail and pay the price. Start early on simple things. Then, with the Lord's help, you will experience the joy of hav­ing an older child who learned in the early years the lessons of assum­ing personal responsibility for behavior--lessons that can last a lifetime.

--Used by permission of David C. Cook Publishing Co.

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If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

Romans 14:8