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Thursday 21 November 2019
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Raising responsible children

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One evening, two weeks ago, my son came home from school despondent because his teacher had bouffed him. It happened again two days later. Now when I bouff him it doesn't matter much, but it's a different story when it's Sir, so he was really down in the dumps. After a bit of investigative journalism type questioning, I discovered that the chastisement was more than justified, as was the punishment that came with it.

At the start of the school term I decided it was time to ease up on the hovering that we "one child" parents love to do, and allow my almost 11-year-old to begin his transformation into a responsible young man. What triggered that decision? It was made for me when, one morning as he was getting dressed for school, he stood directly in front of his open sock drawer and yelled, "Mom!!! You didn't put out any socks for me!" That's when the epiphany took root. My habit of laying out all his things on his bed on mornings in the interest speeding up the getting-dressed process was doing a disservice to this fine lad, who would one day grow up to be a role model of responsibility.

But I digress. My no-hovering commitment involved not looking at his homework book on evenings and working myself into a frenzy to get him to get it done. "You're at an age when you should be responsible enough to know what you have to do and just do it," I offered, and he nodded in agreement. As it turned out, on the days prior to the bouff days, he came home, indicated he had no homework and went about his after-school business doing after-school things. What he didn't remember was that he had written down, in his homework book, measurement items he needed to take to school the next day for practical math. In addition to being scolded, he lost out on valuable play time during the recess break. Since then, the homework book has become the most important book in his bag on evenings.

"Ingraining responsibility in children is not a trick but is simply teaching them life skills," says Dr Karen Ruskin, author of The 9 Key Techniques for Raising Respectful Children Who Make Responsible Choices. "Kids who do not have responsibilities feel entitled and think the world will always do for them."

Teaching children to be responsible, I've read and observed, should begin from very young, even a young as toddler age because a responsible teenager doesn't just spring up from nowhere. I have to admit, although I've tried to follow the "rules", from time to time I drop the ball. Sometimes it may be because of the mess I may have to clean up after he makes himself something to eat, or that it would be faster if I clean his room, but I often find myself doing things I know he should be doing. But then there are times when I insist that he takes the time to learn how to separate the lights from the darks because, "I will not always be around to do it for you," I remind him.

"When your child is invited to participate, he feels valued," says Ruskin. "He will take these good feelings and learn to take ownership of his home and feel pride in maintaining it."

And the thing is, children usually love to help, until they get to the teenage years, when they tend to become very moody. That's when they usually grumble at the fact that you have the nerve to ask them to help out in a house where they don't pay pay a single bill. But habits, whether good or bad, are hard to break. So they may not be pleased about it, but if they are used to doing it, they will continue to do it, albeit grudgingly. There are times when I get extremely tired of explaining to my son why being late is not an acceptable quality; why towels should not be on the floor; why ashy knees and elbows are not attractive; how to tuck in a sheet between the mattress and divan. But he's getting there. I'm still not pleased with the way he folds his T-shirts, or how he manages to accidentally splatter pancake batter in near impossible to clean places. Eventually, though, I believe he will get it, I hope before he hits his teens.

Being responsible with money is another key area in which children need to be schooled. My money management skills are not the best and I'm still learning, even at my age. And because I want my son to be in a better financial place than I was when I was his age and certainly when he gets to be my age, I encourage him to make wise financial choices. Lessons in areas such as delayed gratification, spending choices, short-term and long-term saving goals and interest are important ones from as young as possible.

All decisions have outcomes, some good, others bad. I'm glad that #1son learned that his carelessness regarding his homework had consequences – ones he didn't want to have repeated – and he shaped up. I know in time this lesson will transition into other areas of his life and eventually follow him into the next phase of his life.

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