Responsible, according to the dictionary, means: answerable or accountable; having a capacity for moral decisions and therefore accountable; capable of rational thought or action.
Here’s a different take on the word. Responsibility = response + ability; the ability to respond (appropriately).
You want to raise a responsible child, so you tell her what to do in every situation. You feel you know the appropriate response, and she will be well taken care of if only she follows your instructions to the letter. But you cannot predict every situation.
I was to pick my daughter up from school after a performance that got over late in the evening. I went to the room from which I was to pick her up. She wasn’t there. I went to the office. Not there. I went to the rehearsal room. Not there. I went to the auditorium. Not there.
By now, I was getting frantic. The school had begun to empty, with most parents and children having left, and only a handful of teachers still there. I was going from room to room asking teachers if they’d seen my daughter.
The teacher who dismissed them from the rehearsal room after the performance said, “They were to get their make-up off and then go to the rooms from which you were to collect them.”
I went back to the room from which I had to collect her. “She hasn’t come in. Her stuff is not here,” the teacher told me. She gestured for me to take a look at the few bags that were still on the tables – my daughter’s bag wasn’t there.
I didn’t know what to do, and was beginning to panic. The school grounds are large, most of the lights had been extinguished, and she was nowhere to be found. A few children who’d seen me rushing hither and yon were kind enough to say, “We saw her some time ago, but we don’t know where she is now.”
I went back in a real tizzy to the room from which I was to collect her, to find her standing calmly next to the teacher. I sagged onto a chair in relief. “Where were you?”
“Mom, my friend took ill. When we went to take our make-up off, she began vomiting. I stayed with her, and then handed her over to her parents. Then I came here, and I’ve been waiting for you ever since. You’re late.” (This last in true parental-displeasure style. 🙂 ) I made my explanations, and we declared peace. I collected her (officially 🙂 ), and we did the rounds, visiting all the rooms and teachers I’d been to, to tell them that I’d found her.
For the umpteenth time, I was grateful to have a responsible child.
Unforeseen situations arise all the time. If you want your child to develop the ability to respond appropriately (responsibility), you need to follow only one rule.
Let him respond.
Don’t keep making rules for every situation: “If this happens, you should do that.” You will make hundreds, if not thousands of rules, which will only confuse your child.
Instead, give him a few general, standing instructions. You might say, “Try and get to a phone and call me or another responsible adult (your partner, parent, a family member), don’t go with strangers, don’t ride with anyone unless you have my (or your partner’s) express permission to do so, don’t take food/drink offered by people you don’t know, don’t try to help someone who seems in distress (so many of these are scams, and your child may get into trouble from trying to help)…”
You cannot dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’. Let your child respond. Let him know that you have confidence in his ability to handle a situation. Obviously, he will not do what you would have done in his place. But you have 20 or more years on him! You’d probably have done much worse than him if you were confronted with the same situation when you were his age.
If his response doesn’t yield the desired result or creates a problem, talk about it. Instead of scolding him for his ‘wrong’ (not as effective as you/he would have liked it to be, actually) response, talk about what why his response was less than ideal. Remember, he may still think his response was perfect, while you might be the one thinking it could have been improved! 🙂
If he too, feels less than satisfied with his response, discuss it. He will learn to consider more things while making a response. He will learn to come up with more possible responses. He will learn to evaluate those responses better. He will get the opportunity to practice making appropriate responses.
All of this will enormously increase his ability to respond to a situation.
And you will be raising a responsible child. 🙂