Do you focus too much on obedience? Is there an alternative? Yes. While it’s all well and good to teach our children to obey our word, at some point, we need to teach them to take responsibility for their own behaviors.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have been a bit blinded when it comes to this idea. My kids are doing pretty well with first-time obedience, but the mornings continue to be a pain in my side. Here’s how it typically goes:
7:30 am: They wake up and play while I shower.
8:15 am: I bring them their clothes and cajole them away from their toys to get them to get dressed.
8:25 am: They play while I make their breakfast.
8:30 am: They play while they eat. :)
8:40 am: I encourage them to hurry up and finish to put on shoes and coats. (Yes, we’re still wearing coats in June. Don’t ask.)
8:42 am: They start dawdling. With very little time to spare, I sigh and go get their shoes and coats for them. No socks? I’m the one to run upstairs to grab a pair.
8:48 am: They squeeze in every last minute of play while we get in the car to be at school by 9:00.
As you might imagine, mornings are my least favorite time of day. Can you picture me yelling “hurry!” 50 times before the morning is over? And do you see how we have less and less time for each task as the morning progresses?
I’m sad to say that it took me this long to figure out what our problem is. Now that the school year is over (as of today), I have figured out that I have made no attempt to transfer ownership of these tasks to my boys. Age 3.5, Lucas still needs some help, but William, age 6.5, is certainly capable of taking responsibility for getting himself ready in the morning.
Here’s my plan. Now that school is out, we’ll use our lazy summer mornings to teach this. If it takes him two hours to put his shoes on, it will be okay. We’ll work on it. I will clearly outline each child’s tasks and make cards similar to the ones we use at bedtime. We won’t go anywhere until they accomplish each task on their own. I might even withhold breakfast until all the important tasks are done.
Hopefully we’ll have our act together in time for summer camps in early July so we can be ready and out the door by 9:00 without much yelling and cajoling. When school starts in September, I’ll allow him to be late. I’ll email the teacher and ask him to make a BIG deal if we don’t get there in time. It’s one thing for mommy to say it’s bad to be late, but if it comes from a well-respected teacher, it will carry much more weight.
How have you done when it comes to teaching your kids to take ownership of their behavior? Here’s what the Ezzos have to say about it:
“Childwise Principle #12: Constantly reminding a child to do what is expected only means you have no expectation.”
“Instilling self-generated follow-through is a life skill worthy of any parent’s attention. … Please note the difference between obedience training and responsibility training. Parents unintentionally tend to do more of the first and less of the second.
“Obedience says: the child will do it when reminded. Responsibility says: the child will do it before he needs reminding. Which category of training would you rather be in? That is why we encourage you to seriously consider this ownership issue and the verbiage associated with it.”
There’s one hitch to teaching children to take ownership of behaviors. They need to be ready for them. With our first-borns, we are often tempted to ask too much of them too soon. With subsequent kids, it’s easy to treat them as “the baby” and not require enough of them.
As Childwise says, “Remember principle one. Parents own all behaviors until the child is both ready and able to take ownership. Moms and dads own not only behaviors but decisions governing behaviors until they are able to successfully transfer the rights and responsibilities to the child. Someday, going outside to play, picking out school clothes, and visiting the refrigerator will be the child’s decision.”
Do what I say and not what I do. Be prepared for this day! Teach your children today to take ownership of daily tasks. Note, however, that these are tasks that you assign to them. William is quite independent and very capable of accomplishing many tasks. The issue is getting him to do things that need to be done, not things that he wants to be doing.