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Responsible Children: Doing less teaches them to do more

Watch this two minute video and laugh as you recognise yourself! The Mum Song

Self Esteem is about how Lovable and how Capable your child feels. Therefore, although we may not like the behaviour sometimes, we need to ‘separate the child from the behaviour’. ‘I love you; but that behaviour is not okay’.

If you want a child who feels capable, then Doing Less Teaches Them To Do More, so give opportunities for they to learn new tasks. The weekends are a great opportunity to take time to show your child a new task and to make your life easier while helping your child become responsible.

What kind of parent are you? A good parent who does everything for their child, picks up their clothes, makes their lunches, reminding them of what they have to do, dropping forgotten items into the school? What about help with dressing, supervising eating, settling fights, making all the decisions? A ‘good’ parent may deny their child opportunities to learn from experience; or learn from the consequences of their actions i.e. (forgotten lunch).

How to help your child become responsible, confident and competent
A responsible parent however encourages them to make their own decisions and to live with the consequences. A child can become remarkably responsible when they are given responsibility. Seven year olds can make their own school lunches, all ages can settle their own fights (maybe with a little guidance from you), and a 10 year old can use an alarm clock and get themselves up. Life can be a lot easier on parents, and it is a more effective and responsible approach.

What did you need when you took on a new task?
Think about the first time you sat behind the wheel of the car, what did you need from the person sitting beside you?
You probably needed: Time, Patience, Belief, Encouragement & Support, and it needed to be okay to make a mistake – they need the same! Take Time to Show them, and show belief in them.
Time for training and guidance is essential, but worth the time investment! Set a time aside to show your child how to make their own lunch and you’ll be surprised how interested they are, especially if they are involved in menu planning/shopping; ‘as long as it’s healthy’ is my mantra! They love to learn, and you need to capitalise on that. Lots of encouragement enables children to learn, while criticism or ‘put downs’ makes learning threatening and dries up their efforts. Remember, they are children, and ask yourself ‘Are my standards too high?’

Focus on effort and learning will continue
As children take on new tasks (always better if they choose), a parent needs to be in the background, their best friend, encouraging them, showing and helping when necessary, letting them try for themselves and gradually withdrawing, pleased to see them growing in independence. Let children do it themselves, as much as possible with your help and encouragement.

Teach your child to do something and enable them
Think of some new task you could help your child achieve this weekend to make life easier when back at school. Examples could be: Children dressing themselves, washing their teeth, tie their shoes, ride a bike, and wash their hair, cook, and bake. Young children can get their own breakfast if you set it up i.e. (low cupboard, with plastic bowls, cereal in ‘easy pourer’ and small jug of milk in fridge. The secret with any new challenge is to ‘size it down’ and set age appropriate challenges your child can achieve. The result is them feeling good about themselves, increased competence and confidence and higher self-esteem.

Back to School tips – Routine, Consistency and Predictability is vital!
Allow enough time to reduce stress, so get them to bed earlier and up earlier so there is plenty of extra time. Being more organised with Uniforms, shoes, bags ready the night before school take the pressure off. Give them an alarm clock and call them once only, with lots of praise, encouragement and support at the start. Together have lunches set up or pre prepared, and table set the night before. Routines around bedtime and homework are essential. Homework best after a snack and chat on arrival home while books taken out immediately after. The best response to ‘can I play first?’ is ‘’As soon as xxx’ keeps it positive stay calm for a calmer home.

Belief is everything
Your Belief in them, means they Believe in themselves. The more opportunities they get, the more confident and competent they feel. The more Overprotective you are, the more you render them helpless – & they give up asking to do stuff! Therefore, focus on their effort and not their performance and never criticise a child over a mistake (which sets the next learning challenge) or learning may become threatening and the child may go into avoidance rather than risk being criticised by a parent over failure or a mistake.

Enabling children comes second to nurturing, but is vital for children’s survival.

  • Give your child lots of opportunities to learn new things
  • Easier school days: Get up earlier, be more organised, mornings begin the night before, a have a homework and bedtime routine, be consistent
  • Children have a natural drive to learn and parents need to capitalise on it.
  • Children love to learn as long as there’s an absence of criticism.
  • Time for training & guidance is essential for a child to learn something new.
  • Children become responsible, when given responsibility.
  • Parents need to challenge children
  • Encouragement of children is essential when they are learning.


    This article was written by Sheila O Malley. Sheila owns Practical Parenting and offers courses, 1 to 1 support and School Talks as well as Company talks on Parenting and wellbeing. See www.practicalparenting.ie for details. Book a One Day Saturday course from 10-4pm with a friend or partner and get the tips to need to support you in the hardest job you ever do! Check out Sheila's scheduled autumn Parenting courses here