Raising Children to Think and Act Responsibly

Raising Children with the ...

value of responsibility. What is responsibility really mean? To answer that question, imagine the following scenario. A mother is in the kitchen with her two-year old. She's washing dishes and has just handed him a glass of juice. The little boy takes a gulp, then shrieks as the cup spills onto the hardwood floor. His mother frowns. "Look at what you've done!" she snarls, pointing at the cup. "That's the second time today!" The child hangs his head. Something tugs at the mother's heart, but she can't seem to stop herself from sighing loudly, as she bends down to wipe the floor.

Perhaps you've been witness to such a scene or maybe you've behaved like the mother in our scenario. There are so many things happening in this moment that I will have to break it down. The first and most significant thing to notice is how the mother blames and shames the child. She makes him feel bad about what was most likely an accident. Although she thinks she's raising children to act responsibly, what she's really doing is making her child feel bad about himself. Sure, her son may be more careful about spilling in the future, but at what cost? His carefulness will be driven by fear and shame, rather than his sense of responsibility.

This scenario is not unique to parenthood, but extends into our greater culture. When something happens that we don't like, we point a blaming finger. This strikes at the heart of the American allegiance to cause and effect: if something happened, someone must have caused it; therefore, it must be that person's fault. The guilty party must be blamed, shamed and often humiliated publicly. This suffering is part of what the offender must endure in order to "make things right."Since it's better to be the accuser than to stand accused, righteous indignation fuels the fire and at least partially explains why some people are so quick to point their finger.

While some crimes should be punished, spilling a glass of juice isn't one of them. Even if it was the third spill that day.

As parents who are raising children to act responsibly, we must find alternatives to assigning fault. Contrary to popular belief, a sense of responsibility does not derive from shame.

Raising children to act responsibly does not occur through shaming them.

About ten years ago, I witnessed a family eating dinner in a restaurant and the way they behaved when their youngest daughter overturned her glass of milk has stayed with me ever since. Without a trace of disapproval, the mother said, "It's okay, sweetie. We'll help you clean it up." Then every member of the family grabbed their napkin and wiped until the spill was gone.

This is the essence of responsibility--the ability to respond, no matter what the situation. Think about it for a moment because it's quite profound. Nobody blamed or shamed. No one was left feeling bad. There was no righteous indignation and thus, no drama. Instead, everyone helped clean up the mess. The message sent? It's okay to make mistakes. It's okay to be human. When accidents happen, we will all pitch in and help.

What I witnessed that day was humanity in action--people helping people. If you're raising children to be responsible, then teach them to be responsive to their environment. Model this behavior yourself by acting, rather than reacting. If something happens, whatever it is, ask other family members to help. Show them how quickly messes can be rectified if everyone pitches in.

For those of you who grew up in families that blamed and shamed as mine did, you'll know that it often takes years to recover from the impact of those wounds. Blame gets internalized as shame. Shame profoundly affects all aspects of your life. Worst of all, most parents pass it to their children.

A story about a friend of mine will illustrate how deeply blaming wounds. My friend grew up feeling so ashamed of herself that she imagined that she must have done something horrible. The worst thing that she could think of was that maybe she'd killed someone. She said that she feared that one day people would discover what she'd done and she'd be sent to prison forever. After years of therapy, she realized that what was making her feel that way was all those layers of shame. Her shame had imprisoned her and the person she'd killed had been herself.

Raising children to value responsibility requires modeling it. Above all, remember to teach gently the souls it is your job to tend.

About the author: Laura Ramirez has been writing articles and making them available from her web site for parents just like you for the past 8 years.

If you found this article helpful, please leave a donation for Laura so that you can enjoy the spirit of giving too.

Laura is a public speaker and author of the award-winning parenting book, Keepers of the Children. The book teaches parents how to raise children to know their hearts and minds and act from integrity and strength.



Copyright 1999 by Laura Pickford Ramirez. All rights reserved. This article may not be copied in full or in part without the express written permission of the author, however, you may link to it from your web site, blog or forum.

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