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Book: Install 30/Responsibility

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Chapter Preview: Homework for The Road: Letting Kids Take Responsibility (Chapter 4 cont'd)

If kids are going to grow emotional resilience, they need to discover that when things go wrong, and/or they make mistakes the world does not come to an end, their universe will not disintegrate, and that they can still rebound and continue to move forward. They will not know optimism otherwise.

One of the ways we help kids grow emotional strength is by giving them an opportunity to make little choices, and then stepping back and allowing them to take responsibility for those choices.  If they do not pick up their clothes, are they willing to have wrinkled and dirty clothes that don’t get washed.  If they do not want to put on a jacket in the cold, are they willing to shiver. If they blow all their allowance on one small thing, are they willing to give up saving for something bigger and way cooler. If we can give them the opportunity or freedom to make those non-threatening choices in their daily lives, they will learn who they are and what they really want to do.  This is not a new concept-the idea of natural consequences.  But many of us do not want to engage in it.  When our teenagers embark on their journey through adolescence with all the trials and tribulations that accompany it, they will need grounding, as well as much support.  That grounding comes with realizing that we are NOT going to cover for them, we are NOT going to make excuses for their bad behavior, we are NOT going to protect them from natural consequences. Our support means we believe in them and their ability to make  mistakes, take responsibility, and make amends   We are there to offer love, wisdom, and unequivocal faith, NOT avoidance or excuses


(Installment #33,34) When Our Kids Throw Us A Curve Ball!


H20 to Go!

Growing Emotional Resilience and Navigating Through Childhood

with Heart, Humor & Optimism

BY Margo Judge

Updated 2009

H20 to Go! Copyright, 2004
By  Margo Judge

All rights reserved.
All material on this website protected.
Permission granted for reprinting with
Attribution to Margo@MomOpinion Matters (TM)

Installment #31& 32


Taking Responsibility

Am I willing to take responsibility for that which I am about to do?                                                 

Age 11, Grade 5

Honey, we're here. Try to wake up. Honey? Come on sweetheart, try to wake up.

Mom, I'm really tired.

I know you are but practice begins in five minutes.                                                

I really don't want to go, I'm so tired.

Well, why don't you sit up and see how you feel once you're really up.

I really don't want to go Mom!

Honey, sit up.                             

That's not going to help! Can I just not go today?


Because, I'm tired, that's why.

Look honey. You’ve fallen asleep in the car before, and we’ve had this conversation before.

Mom, its one practice!!!

And what are you going to do the next time you fall asleep and have a hard time getting up?

Mom!! Can you just tell the coach I'm really not feeling well! 


Why not?                                                                                                    

Because you are feeling fine. You’re just tired. Look, you signed up for this team because you want to play baseball. Going to practice comes with the territory. It's perfectly ok with me, if you want to quit the team because you're too tired in the afternoon, but you need to decide what you want to do. We can sit here for as long as it takes. If you want to go home, you have to tell the coach that you're tired or you've decided not to be on the team. I'll wait for you.                                                                                       

I'm talking about one practice, Mom!!

Ok, then you can tell coach you won't be at this one practice, but you have to tell him, not me.                                                                                                  


And with that, my son grabbed his stuff, got out of the car absolutely furious with me, and slammed the door very, very hard! I sat in the car and watched him stomp off, pretty sure he was not coming back. He didn't. That was the last time we had that conversation.  He went on to play ball in college.                                                                                   


Age 12, 6th Grade                                                                                                 

My son really wanted to learn how to sail. We received, in November, a brochure for a five-day sailing camp over spring vacation that sounded wonderful. So, we promptly signed up. All winter, he talked about spring break and going to Annapolis to sail. Comes Spring and the baseball season–except that this season, wouldn't you know, they make the play-offs and game one of the play-offs is the same weekend as the sailing camp. I decide to let him come to terms with this, himself.                         

I'd only be missing one game, Mom.

That's true, but you are a member of the team. Don't they need you there?

They'd be fine without me for one game. They have two other catchers.           


I know you think I ought to go to the play-offs, don't you?

Actually, this is your decision. I'm willing to go along with whatever you decide on this.

Yeah, but you think I ought to go to the game.

I can understand you not wanting to give up a whole five days of camp for one game. I can also see where being at the game with the rest of your team is pretty important too.                                                                                                                                 


I had my own opinion, but the time had come for him to make that decision all on his own, and I was willing to risk that his might be different from mine. So, I let him talk. He made a strong argument for going on the sailing trip. I listened. I did not argue. Finally, he burst into tears. It had been a quite a while since I'd seen my child cry that hard. I realized then, that he was about to give up something he had wanted so very much to do, to do what he thought in his heart, was right. I asked him if he was sure about his decision. I was ok with whatever he wanted to do. He nodded. I told him how proud I was of him for making such a tough choice.                                                               


Comes the day of the game, and he cannot find his cup. We look all over, time is running short, and so, we run to buy a new one. As a result, we get to the field five minutes before the game is scheduled to start. However, my son was actually to be there forty-five minutes ahead of time for practice. He was going to start. So what happens? He comes up to me and says the Coach just benched him for arriving late. He’s not in the game. I was stunned!

Did you tell him why you were late?                                                                                         

Yeah, but he said it didn't matter. I should have known my cup was missing before.                   


So, this play-off game, this one game he gave up a whole sailing trip for, he would not be playing in at all! Now, I almost start to cry. I even call my husband who's boarding a plane to California. At that point, everything seemed so unfair. And for the first time ever, I'm about to go up to the coach. It is my son who says, it's ok, Mom, don't. I'm ok with it, really. I looked at him and he really was. I realized that he had already gone through his bends. He had already made his difficult decision. It really didn't matter whether he played or not. What mattered was that he had decided to be there.                                                                                       


10th grade, 16 years old                                                                                               

Overwhelmed.  Hasn't studied enough for a big test. Probably didn't manage time well. It's midnight. Exhausted. What to do? He is in a panic.

Well, you can take responsibility and tell your teacher the truth.                                              

What? That I'm totally not prepared for this test?

Yes. Look, you have no choice. You have to take the test and try to do the best you can. After the test, you can go up to her and say, you're pretty sure you tanked on this because you got overwhelmed and did not plan enough time to study. You feel badly about being so unprepared and doing badly.

He took my advice and his teacher told him that if he did well on the next test, she'd consider dropping his lowest grade before the end of the trimester.

I tell him that the same would apply to missing a deadline for a paper. Just face it head on. Ask for more time. You know that you'll receive a lower grade, but that's ok. Take the trade off-- more time for a better paper. The teacher will note the effort.                                      


Kids can discover that facing issues and deciding to take responsibility means they do not need us to cover or make excuses for them. They can take an action and control the situation. And most importantly, they don't have to lie or cheat. Telling the truth while scarier at first-- because kids won't naturally want to face up, or confront--is actually easier, more liberating and much more advantageous to them in the long run. Those they have to confront will always respond more positively to truth, (that includes parents) and they will gain a lot more self-confidence in handling the stress that comes from mistakes, blunders or embarrassments.                                                                                                            


It is so easy for us to ride shotgun, pick up a phone, make an excuse or cover for our children- and all of us have done that more than once. But when they get older, our kids really have to start facing their own choices, and that means making the phone calls themselves, giving excuses themselves, explaining their decisions themselves and taking responsibility for their actions, themselves. The hardest thing for us to do is step back and let that happen. Whether we like to admit it or not, what they ultimately decide to do might scare us, or reflect badly on us. But, if we are going to grow emotionally mature adults, we must risk letting our children come to terms with who they really are. The less we cover for them, the more they have to face their true selves. And the truth is, kids really want to do the right thing and feel proud.                                                                                                


Have you ever noticed, for example, that when children have to use their own money to buy something, they suddenly get much more discerning. It's one thing if Grandma is going to buy them that, but do they want it enough to fork up their own allowance? Maybe not. The same principle applies to decisions. Do they really want to do that, if they have to take responsibility for its consequences? We need to put that question in their laps.                                                      


Of course, we are not going to let our children do anything we know would be harmful or self destructive, or impact their entire future in a negative way. There are some decisions we will always reserve the right to make. Nor, will we stop giving our input on values and ethics. But at some point, we have to see what has gone into their computers, and whether or not it exists inside them, independently of us. If my son had gone on that sailing trip, he would have had to take responsibility for NOT being with his team during the play-offs. Did he really want to sail enough to do that and be fine with it? Obviously not. I needed to let him discover that all on his own.                       


If children can have plenty of practice making small, non-life threatening decisions and can practice taking responsibility for choices, and actions they will be able to do so when they are older and the stakes are much higher. By learning how to face someone and admit a shortcoming, or fault and take responsibility when our children are young, they will be able to handle and overcome obstacles and setbacks when they are older and the consequences are more serious. Taking responsibility is a first step in building emotional resilience and a crucial one in growing an emotionally mature adult.


Installment #32

Last Word on Letting Kids Take Responsibility

And while we walk, your homework will be to grapple with choices and do battle with decisions so that you may grow Moral Courage. When you are presented with such a choice, I might say:

You know what?  I am going to leave this up to you.  It’s your decision but you must be willing to take responsibility for both your choice and the consequences.  We can talk about the pros and cons, and I will listen to your feelings without judgment. I will give you a big hug and say that I have a lot of faith in you and I know you will end up doing the right thing. I say this because I know you really want me to believe in you, and you really do want to do the right thing. I think you might already know what that is.

Let me know what you decide.  I love you, no matter what..