Teaching Kids to Be Responsible

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How do you go about teaching kids to be responsible when they already know they’ve messed up?

Dad, here are two tips for teaching kids to be responsible when they've messed up.

I remember when my then-preteen son had just come home from the bowling alley and I heard him crying in the kitchen. He finally came to me, stood in front of me and confessed, “I lost my iPod.”

My bride, Melanie, and I had just given our youngest son the latest iPod for Christmas. It was his pride and joy. But he’d left it on a table and asked his friends to keep an eye on it while he went to the arcade. It wasn't there when he returned.

Of course, I wanted to say, “You did what!? Why did you set it down? That’s about the dumbest… Do you know how much that cost?”

But as I looked at him, I knew that wasn't what he needed. Disciplining kids when they already feel bad for their actions is tricky—after all, you don’t want to pound a lesson into your kids when they are already feeling down.

So how do you go about teaching kids to be responsible when they already know they've messed up?

1. Start teaching your kids to be responsible by reinforcing your love.

First things first, let your kids know that you love them. As dads, many times we immediately focus on the cost, or dive in with logic and say, “You should have done this or that.”

But that isn't what our kids need first. They need to know we’re still there for them and everything is okay. And yes, we still love them.

When my son lost his iPod, although it wasn't the first thought that occurred to me, I took a deep breath, gave him a hug and said, “I love you. These things happen.”

2. Later, when things have settled, use it as an opportunity for teaching kids to be responsible.

Resist the temptation to swoop in and bail your child out of mistakes. We didn't bail our son out of his predicament; we didn't run right out and buy him a new iPod.

I told him a story about how I let a high school buddy of mine borrow my new Converse shoes for gym class. He left them out while he was in the shower, and someone took them. My dad couldn't afford another pair—or maybe he was just teaching me to be responsible. Either way, I wore my raggedy gym shoes that year.

I told my son, “If you want another iPod, you can save your money and get one.”

Melanie told him, “Sweetheart, there are people everywhere looking for stuff like your iPod. You need to think about where you leave things and keep them with you.”

And I said, “Son, if something is that valuable to you, you don’t let someone else watch it. It’s like leaving a pile of money on the table. But it’ll be okay. We’re just glad you aren't hurt. You’re learning from this.”

Later, my son said to me, “I’m so thankful. I thought you all were going to kill me.”

In the end, I didn't have to get loud or pile on humiliation. I could just be on my son’s side and love him. And Melanie and I agreed that the money we paid for the iPod was not wasted because it was an opportunity to teach him to be responsible. It was worth every penny if our son learned a lesson or two.

Written by Carey Casey

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