Q: You talked recently about not giving kids privileges without responsibility. But when do you start teaching responsibility? It seems like a huge task, so how and when do we do that? -- J. M.
A: You are thinking of big adult responsibilities like bills and house payments. But we didn't have all that dumped on us at once. We learned responsibility in many small ways, one step at a time, as we were growing up.
You might think about responsibilities as things it seems impossible to teach, but responsibility is not about things. It's about behavior and taking responsibility for behavior. Think of it that way and you'll see how to teach it to your children every day as they grow from toddlers to teens.
If you give children the privilege of using sand in a sandbox, they need to know that they can play with sand but not throw it. If they do, they can't play in the sand, period.
If they don't help pick up their toys, or if they use the toys in an unsafe or destructive manner, you take away the toys for a week or more and then try it again. If they haven't learned the lesson, repeat the consequence.
These are the ways children learn that privileges come with rules and responsibilities.
If you do these simple things when children are young, you've built a good foundation. They learned that if they do not accept responsibility for their behavior there are consequences. But when they are school-aged, you still need to be vigilant and keep teaching! They're still kids, not adults.
If they don't put their dirty clothes in the hamper, those clothes will not get washed. If they are late for the bus every day, or forget to take their homework to school, you must not keep bailing them out.
If they spend all their allowance on something that was a bad choice, do NOT give them an advance. They need to learn to save up for things they want, instead of expecting you to cave in and pay.
If you teach them the difference between wants and needs, instead of teaching instant gratification by buying what they want when they want it, you are taking giant steps to prevent them from abusing the privilege of a credit or debit card.
If you have not taken time to teach them about consequences and taking responsibility for their behavior when they were young, they (and even you) may suffer because the consequences become greater ... nonsufficient funds, overage fines and even bankruptcy.
Evelyn Petersen is an award-winning parenting columnist and child and family advocate who lives in Traverse City. E-mail questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more columns from Evelyn Petersen, visit record-eagle.com/askevelyn.