If you want more peaceful mornings and less stressful homework time, teaching your children to become more resourceful will alleviate much of the stress and conflict families may experience. Begin by stepping back from micromanaging your kids’ lives. When children are more responsible with household chores and homework, parental stress diminishes.
According to Sam Goldstein, co-author of "Raising a Self-Disciplined Child," responsibility comes from developing a belief that one can make good choices and decisions and, in doing so, accept the consequences of those decisions. Youth raised by authoritative parenting, in which children have input even though they may not have the final say, tend to develop better negotiation and conflict skills and find it much less difficult to follow the rules of home, school and society in general, he says.
Teresa Greco, a licensed clinical social worker at the Lucy Daniels Center Family Guidance Service, notes that the developmental task of all children is to achieve independence.
“Allowing and encouraging children to do for themselves, even when they make mistakes, is a good way to foster healthy self-esteem because it teaches them that you are confident in their abilities,” Greco says. “Give your child work to increase responsibility and alleviate some of your pressure without expecting your child to do it perfectly or to fulfill your role.”
The first step in helping children be more responsible is explaining that you will not be their guide forever, says Jen Kogos Youngstrom, clinical associate professor in psychology and director of Child and Family Services at the University of North Carolina Department of Psychology Community Clinic. She recommends that parents and kids work together to determine what behaviors or expectations are negotiable and what are not, and to set clear guidelines.
“Parents should know their absolute limit,” Youngstrom says. “Make a reasonable consequence that you’ll follow through on.”
When dealing with “hot button” behaviors, Lisa Berlin, research scientist at the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University, encourages parents to ask themselves, “Why does this make me crazy?”
“If you don’t know why some things push your buttons, find ways to explore it. We don’t always have an answer immediately," Berlin says. "Think about it; talk about it with other parents or, if it’s recurring, there is good short-term family counseling.”
Goldstein says he encourages parents to consider their goals and to ask themselves whether angry expressions of frustration, irritability or the often-repeated "How many times do I have to tell you?" in the long run is not only not helpful, but creates additional barriers to helping children develop responsibility.
Children are never too young to have small jobs, Berlin says. “When it comes to building skills, the earlier the better,” she says.
Rhonda Hinnant of Cary taught her son, Grayson, 8, and daughter, Margo, 5, how to get dressed and make their beds by themselves when they turned 3. Hinnant says that she and her husband, Lloyd, helped at first until the kids knew the routine.
The Hinnants use a “marble system” to encourage certain behaviors. Whoever finishes his or her routine in a timely fashion puts a marble in a cup. When enough marbles have accumulated, the child gets a reward: a visit to a park or the chance to pick a restaurant the next time they eat out.
“I think if parents emphasize the positive, the child will too,” Berlin says. “If the parent feels apprehensive about asking the child to do things, the child will pick up on that.”
Jeannie Lee of Fuquay-Varina, her husband and their sons, Preston, 14, and Parker, 11, divided the household jobs among themselves.
“The boys got to pick their favorites, and they are paid allowance once they are done. We have a checklist that they turn in as a pay voucher,” Lee says, adding that the boys also experience the consequences of their actions. “They don’t get paid if they don’t complete all tasks, or they lose money if something is not done."
The boys have alarm clocks to wake them each morning, and they must ask their parents for a ride to school if they oversleep and miss the bus, she said.
“We explain their ‘job’ at school and that they need to make their boss (teachers) happy to get ‘paid’ with good grades," she says. "If either of us did not complete an assignment at work or talked back to our bosses, we’d get fired.”
Melanie Raynor, a guidance counselor at Needham B. Broughton High School in Raleigh, says students should have a set place and time to do their work.
“Usually, it’s wise to have them work on the hardest assignment first because the ones they enjoy more will not take as long and will be more likely to get done even if they are tired,” Raynor says.
When Hinnant’s son was in kindergarten and having difficulty reading, Hinnant would call a timeout. Normally, Grayson finishes homework before supper, but Hinnant notes that if he has trouble completing an assignment, she lets him finish later. She also ties completing homework to something positive, like playing with a friend.
In the Lee household, Preston and Parker also need to complete their homework early.
“Homework cuts off at 6:30. They hate that because they would drag it on all night long. So, they have from 4 to 6:30 to get it done, and every now and then, we do make an exception,” Lee says.
Paula Adams teaches sixth- and seventh-grade math at North Raleigh Christian Academy in Raleigh and spends much time helping her sixth graders develop responsibility.
“Sixth grade is the year that these children make habits they will carry with them throughout their lives. I try to teach procedures that will set them up for success in any area,” Adams says. “These expectations will teach them to be punctual, responsible and prepared for whatever they do in life.”
She begins the year by explaining class procedures, which help students take ownership of their learning, and she shares these expectations and procedures with parents.
“I explain the reasoning behind them so that parents can see that the children are ready by this age to take on more and more responsibility,” Adams said.
As students mature, parents can let go of their micromanaging, experts say.
“Parents are not in charge of negotiating problems with teachers or tracking down assignments. Sometimes, it is important for a child to fail an assignment in order to succeed the next time,” Greco says.
Even during high school, Greco says it is still appropriate for parents to monitor how their teenagers are managing tasks.
"Teenagers often need and want their parents to provide support and guidance – mainly through listening without judgment – particularly around the complicated academic and social demands that high school presents,” she says.
Most middle and high schools, and some elementary schools, promote responsibility by providing every student with an agenda or planning calendar, which Raynor points out teaches students the value of using a planning tool.
She encourages students to communicate with the teacher. “As the students ask the questions, they are learning to be their own advocates for learning,” she says.
Raynor tells parents to identify privileges that motivate their student, such as use of the cell phone or car. If the student is not successfully doing school work, parents can revoke these privileges, with clear guidelines on earning them back.
“It’s vitally important that parents follow through with the consequences and let students experience the ‘aha’ moment that comes when they realize that their choices led to the consequence. Inconsistency leads to frustration for both the parents and the student,” she says.
Releasing control can be hard, experts say, but keep in mind the goal of parenting: well-adjusted children who impact society in positive ways. While it’s bittersweet when you’re no longer needed, in the end, encouraging your children to fly on their own will help them reach amazing heights, they say.