Raising Responsible Kids

Recently, I read an article on discussing one mom’s views on raising responsible children and why she doesn’t cater to her kids. Her school age children pack their own lunches, manage their own schedules, homework, and suffer the consequences if they forget gym clothes or school assignments. This article sparked a lively discussion in the comments about what are (and are not) our responsibilities as parents, with many contributions about how various households are run.

In my house, homework is done as soon as we get home from school, while munching on a snack. In addition to his homework, he completes a daily Lumosity workout and practices his math skills and studies Spanish through apps. On the weekends he’s still expected to do his “lessons” (which consist of reading for 20 minutes and completing his Lumosity, math, and Spanish).

Then, my son has an hour of free time to play video games while I tie up the loose ends of my work day. After the hour is up, we tidy the house and start supper. Most evenings, he helps me cook. At 8, he can scramble eggs, make spaghetti and sandwiches, help prepare vegetables, meats, and bake (his favorite, under careful supervision, of course).

After supper, he washes the dinner dishes while I pack up the leftovers, wipe the counters down, and sweep. I usually sit down to read when we are done and he has free time to play before his bath.

After our baths, he’s allowed to watch a 20 to 30-minute show of his choosing. When the show is over, we brush our teeth, wash our faces, and he climbs in bed to read before lights out.

My son lives with severe ADHD and thrives on consistency. All task transitions are given a 5-10 minute “heads up” that allows him to find a stopping point before we move to the next part of our evening. This “warning” prevents numerous squabbles and arguments and allows us to coexist with less stress.

He is expected to help around the house. He washes, dries, and puts away his own laundry. He takes out the bathroom trash every week. He keeps his bedroom and playroom tidy and picks up his toys from the living room. If things aren’t picked up, they get put in a box and stored on the top shelf of my closet for two weeks. He feeds our two cats, keeps their water dish full, and scoops their cat box regularly.

If he completes his chores without complaining, he earns $5.00 every Friday, paid in singles. This money is divided between two envelopes, one for savings and one for spending. He can use his spending envelope for anything he would like, but he MUST always keep money in his savings. Understanding the value and management of money is incredibly important. So is developing financial discipline and an adequate cushion for the lean times to come.

I still pack his lunches and snacks, but soon, that responsibility will pass to him. I still check his folder every day, and will still proof his papers and correct his homework, but definitely want him to have the ability to plan his time wisely and proactively break tasks into chunks. His success is my number one priority.

All these things lay the foundation for well-developed life skills. Some things have to be taught at home, others he will learn at school, some might be a mix of both.

This particular blog developed from my desire to understand how our school systems are failing our children, and how we can do better as parents to help fill the gaps. Maybe, with the right discussions, we can influence legislation and lesson plans to positively influence how and what our children are taught.

What do we consider life skills?

There is a lot of criticism out there for traditional academic subjects. Why do I need to learn algebra? What’s the point of studying Shakespeare? Do I really need Chemistry?

Many of the things we learn in school are foundations for valuable skills you’ll use throughout life. No, you probably won’t need to use FOIL or apply the Pythagorean theorem, but algebra sets the stage for advanced mathematics and helps the brain develop valuable skills such as critical thinking, logic, deductive and inductive reasoning, and problem-solving. It teaches the brain to manipulate abstract concepts and combine elements that seem fundamentally distinct, such as letters and numbers.

Before you get ahead of me, NO, math is not the only subject that teaches these skills. Literature, writing, history, music, art, sports, and science all make their own valuable contributions to the healthy development of young brains. Consistency is key. Flexibility is key. Adaptability is key. We want students who can see patterns throughout history, connect themes in literature, unpack the complexities of biological systems, understand how chemicals interact, appreciate cultural development, utilize constantly evolving technology, and intelligently question EVERYTHING.

Traditional academics are important, but practical skills have their own place, too.

So, what do we consider life skills?

Abstract Skills

These are crucial to the development of healthy, functioning adults, but not necessarily tangible.

  • Social Skills – including communication, manners, and a sense of humor
  • Self-Control – cultivating discipline and the ability to say no to yourself and others
  • Grit and Focus – the ability to stick with something, even through the hard times
  • Organization – taking notes, creating schedules, and disposing of clutter
  • Self-Awareness – understanding your purpose, goals, preferences, and values
  • Cultural Sensitivity – empathy and diversity are key in a global community

Practical Skills

These skills are the things that help us navigate daily life in the most literal sense.

  • Housekeeping Skills – cooking, cleaning, basic home maintenance
  • Sexual Education – basic mechanics, financial consequences, and hygiene
  • Money Management – budgeting, credit cards, car loans, mortgages, and investing
  • Government and Politics – cultivating informed and active, involved citizens
  • Employment Skills – resumes, interviews, and contract negotiations
  • Wellness Skills – developing healthy relationships, self-care, exercise, and first-aid

So, what should be taught at school?

If the goal is to develop healthy, high-functioning adults, then traditional academics are still relevant, but curriculum should be taught in such a way that successful standardized testing becomes a by-product of effective learning. Teaching a test and rote memorization are not good ways to cultivate successful students. Education should be structured in such a way that these tests merely reflect progress instead of setting the standard. I understand that this is much easier said than done, but I refuse to accept that we cannot find a solution with how intelligent, creative, and connected our world has become.

These traditional areas of study should be combined with an ongoing practical education that allows children to develop useful skills throughout their school career, culminating in classes that have real-world applications before graduation.

Schools should teach emotional awareness, hygiene, nutrition, and fitness from a young age (and many already do). I am lucky that my son’s school is enormously involved and supportive of its students. We should set standards for healthy relationships and teach our children acceptable ways to treat each other.

Sexual education must be comprehensive and practical, because abstinence doesn’t work and children should understand the consequences of their actions. Comprehensive education is more than just literal mechanics and should discuss everything from contraceptive options to financial repercussions, such as the costs of raising a baby and child support obligations.

The current state of American finances is argument enough that we need to teach money management on a national level. Students need to understand building a budget, how to take out a loan, purchase a car or home, the dangers of credit cards, and how credit scores work.

Practical skills such as cooking, cleaning, first aid, and basic car/home maintenance are important. Many children don’t know how to use a washing machine, clear a clogged toilet, or change a flat tire. These are basic, money-saving skills that make life easier overall.

What is our responsibility to teach at home?

None of this works without parental involvement. None of it. Our school systems could be absolutely top-notch, but without involved parents, our children will still fail. Hard.

So how do we augment school learning with practical application at home?

In our house, we use a chore system. He has an assigned set of age-appropriate expectations that, if completed, he earns money for. I also give my son the option of picking up additional duties if he wants to earn more money. We also cook together and he helps with the grocery planning and shopping.

We have started the conversation about spending wisely and saving early on. These are things that I want him to understand and have good habits built and ingrained.

Study skills are another important area that we try to cultivate. It’s not enough just to create expectations, we also want to establish an environment where he is self-motivated and able to organize his time and resources efficiently. A passion for lifelong learning is a success skill that our children desperately need in today’s modern, technologically advanced world. Jobs and skills change so frequently. Our children need to be able to adapt and expand into new job titles and demands.

We also eat dinner at the table, together, every night. No electronics. His father and I are not together, and while we get along and work well together as co-parents, the split households result in me being without my son some days of the week. This makes dinnertime even more important to me, as mornings are typically hectic. The time we spend seated and talking about our days is something I cherish and strive to keep the channels of communication open. When he hits adolescence, I want him to be able to talk to me about the hard things without fear of judgment.

On skills such as changing tires or basic household maintenance, my knowledge is functional, but limited. YouTube has been an invaluable resource for my own education, and I try to include my son in as many things as possible. What I don’t know, we can learn together!

What kind of changes would you like to see? How do you run your households and distribute responsibilities? What kind of changes to our education system do you think would be productive? What skills do you believe are important for healthy, successful adults? I would love to hear your opinions and ideas!

Stay curious, y’all.

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