Families, communities, and nations are stronger when parents teach their children how to behave responsibly. According to revelations from God to His prophets, parents have a sacred duty to teach their children to obey the commandments of God as well as the rules of home and society. The Lord also said that He will hold parents accountable for discharging their obligations. (See "The Family – A Proclamation to the World".) Much of this blog post comes from the parent education course taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Strengthening Families.
Teaching children to accept responsibilities in the family is not a one-time task. It takes repetition and consistency day in and day out for weeks, months, and years of teaching with vigilance and affection. Children need to be held accountable by loving and trusting parents. They need to be taught to work responsibility by working along beside us and by working alone.
The time to begin teaching children is when they are infants because children are born with a natural desire to learn. There is a bond that develops gradually between parents and child as they repeatedly interact with each other. This relationship is an ideal climate for learning, and children gradually absorb their parents’ way of doing things by watching and listening.
Childhood and adolescence could be the most crucial time in an individual’s life. It is during these years that youth acquire values, attitudes, and habits that will guide their behavior for the rest of their life. This is a good time for parents to teach proper values and responsible behavior to their children in ways that invite cooperation rather than rebellion.
There are at least six principles that can help parents to teach correct principles more successfully to their children. The first principle is “Teach by Example.” President David O. McKay described example as “the best and most effective way of teaching.” Elder Delbert L. Stapley said the following about example: “A wise man, when asked to list three cardinal points that exemplified the lives of the great teachers of all time and that would be a guide to new teachers, said: ‘First, teach by example. Second, teach by example. Third, teach by example.’”
The second principle is “Give Children Responsibilities.” Many parents tend to overindulge their children and shield them from the responsibilities they once had to go through – experiences that helped them become capable adults. When parents give goods and service without requiring much in return, their children lose motivation to become self-reliant and responsible – and they become lazy, selfish, and self-indulgent. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, “Those who do too much for their children will soon find they can do nothing with their children.”
The third principle is “Clarify Expectations.” Sometimes parents assume their children know exactly what is expected of them and then are disappointed when their unstated expectations are not met. Clearly expressed expectations remove uncertainty and disappointment, thereby strengthening the parent-child relationship. The following steps can help in a variety of relationships by making expectations known: (1) Clarify in your mind what you want. (2) Choose a good time to make your request. (3) Be positive and specific. (4) Show what you mean. (5) Give lots of positive feedback.
The fourth principle is “Teach Responsible Behavior One Step at a Time.” Children need to be taught to perform simple actions that are steppingstones to the behavior expected of them as adults. Children may need progressive steps to learn such things as respecting others, using good manners, cleaning a room, or doing yard work. Behavior can be broken into simple, achievable tasks, according to the age and capabilities of the child. For example, a child can be taught to pick up toys before learning how to clean an entire room. With patience and ingenuity, parents can help their children become cooperative, helpful, and responsible individuals, preventing many problems as children mature.
The fifth principle is “Give Choices.” Children do not like to be ordered around any more than adults do. Children start to resist when orders are given, but they cooperate more readily when they can choose between two acceptable alternatives. “I would like you to pick up your clothes before you go out to play this afternoon. Would you like to pick them up now before the bus comes, or as soon as you come home from school?” The options are limited, but children can make a choice, which helps them take responsibility. When parents allow their children to choose, the parents should ensure that the choices they offer are acceptable to them as parents.
Children are not always eager to embrace new changes that require them to behave responsibly. Be prepared to hear phrases such as “That’s not fair,” “Why do I have to do this?” “Other parents don’t make their kids do that,” or “You don’t care about my feelings or you wouldn’t make me do this.” Parents should not be manipulated by such comments. They need to be consistent in the matter of choices.
The sixth principle is “Engage in Family Activities.” The teaching efforts of parents will be enhanced as they engage in activities with their children. Children who work and play alongside their parents are more likely to incorporate the teachings and example of their parents in their own lives. Parents should plan activities that are meaningful and enjoyable for everyone. Work and play can both be satisfying when parents foster good relationships with their children.
President James E. Faust emphasized the importance of teaching children responsible behavior: “If parents do not discipline their children and teach them to obey, society may discipline them in a way neither the parents nor the children will like. … Without discipline and obedience in the home, the unity of the family collapses.”
Greater peace and happiness come to families as parents lovingly teach children to obey the commandments of God and the rules of home and society. By teaching responsible behavior to their children, parents can strengthen their family, community, and nation.
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