by Gary Watson
With the onset of the school year, I am reminded of all times parents come to me seeking advice about how to get their kids to be more responsible. There are several ways to help kids learn to be more confident, competent and responsible as they embark on another academic year.
One way to help your little one grow a sense of responsibility is to let them make decisions for themselves; if you create opportunities for your child to make their own choices, they are less likely to argue with you when it comes to things they may not enjoy doing. For instance, instead of saying, “Get ready for bed,” ask them, “Do you want to brush your teeth first, or put your pajamas on first?”. You won’t care which they choose, but it gives them a sense of independence to make choices for themselves. Then, when it’s your turn to make a decision, you will likely be met with less resistance.
A second way to build confidence and competence is to let your kids start doing some of the things you normally do for them or without them. Take cooking, for instance. Many of us do the cooking ourselves because we’re in a hurry to get dinner on the table so we can move on to the next chore. Letting kids take part in cooking sends the message we think they are capable of doing things, and gives them a sense of competence Being intentional about letting your kids participate in daily chores gives them the feeling accomplishing grown-up tasks—and you get to spend quality time together. It also demonstrates that you’re willing to do chores with them.
A third way to encourage your child to be confident and develop core values is to ask their advice or opinion on certain matters. This works well with teenagers who want to be seen as adults by their parents. It works best if you ask their opinion about something you can then act on. Such as, “Which of two blouses goes best with your skirt?” or “Which one of these movies do you think we should watch?”
You can also ask their opinion on a value laden topic when you have a pretty good idea the two of you are on the same page. For example, ask how they think a social situation should be handled if you feel confident they will give an appropriate response. Asking for their advice or opinion has two benefits: One being that genuinely asking for their opinion sends the message that you acknowledge they are capable of making smart choices and their ideas have value, which helps build confidence. The other benefit is that asking their opinion on a subject that elicits their values helps reinforce positive morals and builds cognitive dissonance.
Try experimenting with letting your child make decisions, letting them help you with chores you normally do without them and asking their opinion more often. You’ll notice less resistance and more peace in your home as the chaos of the school year ensues!
Gary Watson is an individual and family therapist specializing in Solution Focused Brief Therapy. He works with individuals, couples, families, and teenagers with a focus on helping you determine what you want your preferred future to be and how you can do more of the things that work for you, and less of the things that don’t. Gary is also a trainer for therapists wishing to learn to use Solution Focused Brief Therapy in their own work with clients. Learn more about Gary at turnaboutcounseling.com.