Teaching Children Responsibility
  By Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Many children don't recognize that they themselves, not someone else, pick their own behaviors.  But it's not just children.  Even many adults don't realize that they choose to act in a certain way while they also have a choice to act in a better way.  

Children tend to believe that something or someone else causes their behavior.  Explanations they give for their behaviors reflect such thinking:

"Why did you throw pencil at him?" 
"He made me do it." 
"Why were you throwing those paper wads at other kids?" 
"Because that teacher bored me to death."  
"Why were you making faces at your sister?" 
"Because she made me angry."

Children often blame adults, peers, siblings, or some other external influence for their own behavior and attitudes.  As long as they think in this way, they feel powerless over their behavior.  

Help children to see that they pick their own behavior.  To help children see that they have choices, parents must consistently offer them choices. Examples: "Do you want toast or cereal?" "Do you want the sweater and the cap or the sweatshirt with the hood?" "Do you want to do the dishes now or after you call your friend?"  

It is better to give children controlled choices as given in the above example.  Uncontrolled choices are counterproductive. An example of uncontrolled choice might be, "What would you like for lunch today?" In controlled choices, parents and children both have a degree of control.  In uncontrolled choices, parents loose all control.                

In order for children to feel they are responsible for their own behaviors, parents may use three key words when talking to their children: choose; pick; and decide.  

Chick Moorman in his book "Parent Talk" gives the following examples:  "I noticed you decided to be fired up today."  "How come you picked your grumpy mood?"; or "What response did you choose when problems got tougher?"  


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