When it comes to teaching my littles about how to be responsible, I like to focus on two main goals;
Showing them how to be responsible for their surroundings (part 1) and teaching them how to be responsible for their actions (part 2.)
This helps me keep a focused, clear mind about the goal and the how to, because personally I have noticed it’s easier for my kids to understand the importance and the meaning of the word ‘responsibility’ when we separate these two factors.
Now, I am not sure about the rest of you, but one of my biggest issues when it comes to being responsible is balancing everything from time management, to multitasking appropriately.
In fact, if I am being completely honest with myself (and you) I have a very complicated, love/hate relationship with multitasking.
Time management can be flexible, one thing gets missed and you fill it into another block on the cheat sheet along the way. However, when you start taking on too many responsibilities at once you end up lost in a chaotic mess of chores, requests, to-do list specials and so on. Because of this I try not to make anything harder than it has to be, especially teaching my littles valuable life lessons, like how to be reliable, trustworthy and honorable and other important factors that help mold us into responsible individuals.
So, one of my favorite ways to teach my girls about responsibility is by simply waiting for life to happen…
…and life always happens.
Responsibility for Your Surroundings
Here is the issue with one’s surroundings; you aren’t always in control.
If your little is in class and someone is acting out, they cannot force said child to behave, nor is it there place to do so even if handled respectfully. It’s just not expected of a toddler to correct or direct another toddler. Not usually.
So how in the world do you teach a toddler about being responsible for their surroundings when they aren’t even in control of it?!
You show them how to remove themselves from a bad situation, or how to react to an environment they cannot immediately escape from.
You want to mold this lesson to fit your child’s personality.
If they are a flight over fight kind of person, accept and encourage that. Do so in a way that leads them to find the courage to trust their gut instincts, this way when they feel the desire to ‘fly away’ they not only listen to that instinct, but do so in a way that is appropriate for the situation.
In this case, we can use an event that happened not so long ago in my own home.
I had directed my girls to clean up the playroom. Of course there were protests, a few tantrums and all the glum reactions a parent would expect.
However, my toddler (two years old) seemed to be really bothered by seeing her older sister (four years old) so upset over the idea of having to clean up.
My youngest started stiffening up, her eyes wide, breath held tight and then… the explosion happened.
Toys were thrown, tears were shed, it was a whirlwind of emotions that stopped my oldest dead in her tracks. She immediately sensed the stress she had created, her eyes frantically searched the room for a way out.
My youngest, however had no idea how to remove herself from the situation. She saw what was happening, she wanted to get away from all the fuss, but she was frozen. Before she knew it all the emotions burst out like a firecracker.
There were probably several ways to deescalate the situation (you will find what works best for your little one with time) but for my two year old, my most sensitive little, the first thing that came to mind was to simply remove her from the chaos so that she could decompress.
I knelt down eye to eye with her, handed her a random toy and asked her to take it to her bedroom. It was all I could think of in the moment. It didn’t make much sense since the toy would have to be put back in the playroom, but it worked and that’s all that matters.
My little girl took a deep breath, snatched the toy and ran to her room. She tossed the toy on the ground, if only to get it out of the way so that she could fling herself onto the bed to finish her outburst. It was probably five minutes later, after addressing my oldest about her behavior, that I went over to my toddler and saw that she was not only calm but completely taken over by a new project in her own space.
We sat together, cuddling on her bed and talked about how it is okay to ask to leave the room if something is bothering her. I wasn’t sure if all this was sinking in, only time would tell, but at least the chaos was over.
Fast forward a few weeks later; another incident irrupted in the playroom, my two year old bolted into my arms, crying and going on about how she wanted “some space from sissy” so of course my immediate reaction was to rush towards her sister to gain answers, however something pulled me out of the moment and it hit me that my toddler had just shown me that she understood our previous lesson.
She was stressed, needed some time away from something or someone and removed herself from the situation. She took responsibility for her surroundings and acknowledge how to improve the situation without escalating it, not that she realized that is what she was doing (or maybe she did), either way I was very proud of her. So far, with only a few reminders, she has been keeping in line with this approach and using it when needed.
Responsibility for Your Actions
For the sake of time (among other things) we can reuse the example from Part 1: The Playroom Meltdown.
Only this time we will talk about my oldest, her outburst, how it caused her sister to lash out and what we did to address her unnecessary behavior.
“I want to play and you made me stop! I’m so frustrated! I don’t even like these toys! You’re being mean and I hate you!”
-My dear, sweet child.
Yes, she said all that… and more. But let’s not focus on what was said too much. The point is that she isn’t thinking, she is reacting to how she is feeling.
Remember that when someone starts lashing out it’s a reflection of themselves and what is going on with them internally. This is true even with kids, possibly more so than with adults.
Therefore, to be quite honest, I didn’t care about what she was saying. I was more concerned with the emotion(s) she was expressing and how she acted, throwing toys and yelling.
My focus was on how to regain a sense of calm in the room and in her.
Thankfully, I knew my oldest well enough to know that anything I said in that moment was going to go in one ear and out the other.
Not only was she not going to listen to me, she would take anything I said and use it against me.
So the only way to gain control in these moments is to hug it out. Literally. I call it the Mommy Hold.
Gently, I sneak in behind her, wrap my arms around her torso and fold her arms with mine crisscross style so that she can’t hit me or herself. Then I sit us down (keeping my head to the side in case she tries to headbutt) and fold my legs over hers, again in a crisscross manner.
I make sure not to hold her too tight, I don’t want to hurt her or make it worse, I just don’t want her too injure anyone, including herself.
We sit like this for as long as it takes, this time it was only about three minutes before she took a deep breath and said, calmly, “I want to sit alone now.”
[ This doesn’t have to be your method! I would never suggest you do something that you’re not personally comfortable with. Think about your baby, how they react to you in moments of stress and what you can do (or not do) to bring a sense of calm to the room. ]
This part is important.
You need to give them space to collect their thoughts, process what happened and time to readjust their emotions.
Think about it like this; if you get into a fight with someone you love, you need space to heal before you reenter the situation. You know that you will see them again, you know that you still care about them, but you just can’t stand to be around them in that moment.
It is imperative that you allow your littles time to accept all that is happening before you try to move forward.
Once that part was over, I reentered the room so that we could go over all that chaos and come up with a better approach.
I listened to her concerns, she wasn’t done playing with the toys I had asked her to clean up and put away. She was sure that with just another few minutes she could complete her castle and wanted to leave it there for next time, instead of having to rebuild it.
This is when I stepped in with how her reactions were not only inappropriate but unhelpful. She made a bigger mess, ruined her castle and upset her sister.
The light starts to come on and I can see she is understanding how acting out had made things worse. After this, it didn’t take long before she agreed that calmly sharing her concerns would have been a better option.
Now when she is directed to clean the playroom she tries to catch herself before acting out. She still gets frustrated, but she uses her words wisely, asking to save a spot for some toys she isn’t ready to clean up.
And that is okay!
I want her to learn that if she is willing to compromise then so am I.
Responsibility For Your Surroundings & Actions
I know it is a lot to go over. I am sure I could type up a thousand more examples, just keep in mind anything you read about, research and learn is going to have to be tailored to fit your family and your own little’s needs.
So just to help keep things clear, here are some notes from the examples above:
- Take control of the situation, as calmly as possible
- Remove your toddler from the stressful environment
- Give them time to decompress
- Talk to them about how they would like to handle the incident
- Encourage them to address the issue in a manner that is appropriate and meets their needs/wants
- Revisit the site of the incident with a new approach (but don’t force it)
- Give them little reminders for future events, “If you need some space, go for it.”