The following dialog between two mothers is worth sharing. First mother: “How do you get Benjamin to keep his room so orderly? I feel like all I do is pick up, pick up, pick up.” Second mother: “I used to pick up, but not anymore. I realized that Daniel was overwhelmed. He literally did not know how to go about cleaning his room because there was so much ‘stuff’ in it. So, I cleared out his room and only left 1 large item, some books, 2 board games, and 3-5 toys. Everything else was put in bags or boxes and put out of sight until time to rotate. Believe me, it has made life so much easier.”
Adults often don’t realize how easily children can become overwhelmed. The second mother above “got it.” She not only “got it,” but she also took action to solve the problem. When parents tell a young child to clean up, the child may not understand what that looks like in practical terms. Without showing children how something is to be done and requiring active participation, how in the world can we expect them to understand? Though the example above relates to children not putting items away in their bedroom, it is really an example of a larger problem. Questions submitted by parents to our team of parent coaches often relate to children not taking responsibility in general, whether it be for their actions or behavior.
Parents are not the only ones concerned. Students have now returned to in-person learning after a year of virtual instruction. I recently asked several teachers to share their biggest challenges since returning to the classroom. All responses focused on the same problem. Teachers are spending an inordinate amount of time on social and life skills. Below are some comment’s that were shared:
“The children don’t listen. I literally have had to teach listening skills. Many students have no clue as to what focused listening is. More often than not, when I ask a student a question, I have to repeat it because their first response is, “uh” or “what?”
“We have to eat lunch in the classroom due to Covid guidelines. I noticed the students would simply toss their trash onto the floor, stuff it inside their desk or leave it and walk off. It didn’t occur to them that it was their responsibility to clean up after themselves.”
“So many of my students don’t seem to think that they have to do the work assigned. One day, after explaining to them that they were at school to learn and that the work must be done, a student asked, “But, why?”
“We work on manners daily. Holding the door for someone, saying please, thank you and excuse me, offering to help someone else, taking turns. You name it, we are having to work on it. It takes up instructional time, but they haven’t gotten it and it’s important.”
The above observations are particularly concerning because developmentally the behaviors cited are ones for which the foundation should be laid by parents when children are between the ages of 2 and 3.
The first 2 years of life are critical in terms of parents meeting (serving) the physical and emotional needs of children. By age 2, the focus must shift to helping children understand that they are no longer to be “served” but are now old enough to learn “to serve.” One of the best means of fostering a sense of service, personal responsibility, and family pride is by assigning children age-appropriate daily chores. Family chores were the norm in generations past. Today, many children have no assigned chores at all. Chores promote self-discipline, time management and respect for property; attributes that are key to success in school and life. Requiring active participation with household chores sends an important message to children that they are capable, valued members of the family; a message that can be powerfully beneficial to a child's development.
Currently, the decline in personal accountability in our country is unbridled. Schools are carrying the burden of trying to teach students who are not adequately prepared to learn.
Teaching children the importance of personal responsibility and accountability needs to begin early in a child's life and must begin at home. It's past time to sound the alarm! As a society, we cannot and should not expect teachers to do that which is fundamentally the job of parents.
© Sharon Knapp Lamberth, February 2022