10 Steps to Teaching Responsibility and a Peaceful Household

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I had a very interesting conversation with some parents a little bit ago.  They came over for dinner and heard me ask my child to do the dishes.  Their jaws dropped! 

“You have him do the dishes?!” They asked in astonishment. 

“Yes.  He has chores around the house.” 

“Wait.  He has more than doing the dishes?  What else does he have to do?”

“Oh, clean his room and bathroom, feed the animals, pick up the dog poop, and fold and put away his laundry.”

“I think that is too much! He is a kid.  Kids should be out playing and being creative.  Their job is school and that is where it should end.”

To which I graciously responded.  “You are right.  He is a kid.  For this short time, I have him, I am responsible for teaching him how the real world works.  I have a full-time job as well.  Then I teach him home school and take care of his social and health obligations.  My house still needs cleaning, the laundry still needs to be done, and the dishes still need to be cleaned.  Simply because I have a job that does not change the responsibilities at home.  We have chosen to teach our son that as a family who resides in the same household, we all have responsibilities and must contribute.”

They sat in contemplative silence for the next five minutes and then agreed.

So, how do you teach responsibilities?  What is too much?  Where is the balance?  Here are 10 easy steps to taking the work out of teaching work responsibilities. 

1)      Whose Responsibility? It is important to not just teach how chores are done but whose responsibility things are.  For example, as a kid, I learned multiple instruments.  If I forgot my instrument for band practice, I was not allowed to call my parents to bring it for me.  They had full-time jobs as well.  I remember my mother saying to us when we forgot our homework/backpack/coat/instrument/etc. “Whose homework? Whose responsibility?”  Boy, did we hate hearing that!  She was right.  We do our children no favors when we come in to save the day every time they mess up and forget.  This does not mean never be that hero (life circumstance often teaches us we need help from others), but we should not make it the norm.  Let them learn and grow.

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2)      Chores, Chores, Chores:  No one likes chores.  Don’t fool yourself. You don’t even like chores.  They are a part of life, that also teaches us to work ethic, responsibility, and diligence.  Check out the downloadable document below on Age Appropriate Chores for Children published in 2013 for a place to start. (Thank you, Pastor Lisa for making this great resource available.).  Remember, each child is different and has different needs.  This is just a guideline. We also introduced one chore at a time so our son could perfect before he got overwhelmed.

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3)      Planning: Weekly I try to get some idea of the menu for the week.  Or at least when I get the grocery shopping done.  Sometimes, I am just out of ideas.  This is a great place to have children help and teach responsibility.  Let your kids help plan (and cook) a meal.  They will love being involved and usually will like to eat what they make (for you picky eaters out there).  Let them help at the grocery store.  Teach them how to pick produce, how to get the cheapest item or the best quality for your money.  Give them a budget for their “impulse buys” they will undoubtedly ask for it. Start the conversation on money and taking care of the groceries – a life skill they will need for the rest of their lives.

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4)      Kids Help Kids: For those with multiple children, use this opportunity to develop leadership.  Let older kids help younger kids learn things like how to tie shoes, or send them on an errand together to pick something up.  Kids learn a lot from older siblings and teammates.  Use this to teach generationally.

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5)      Play-dates: I know it is really easy to want to be present at all playdates all the time.  But this is just no necessary.  It is ok and good to leave your children with a trusted adult.  If you trust the parent, and it is age-appropriate, leave your child to have fun without you.  This helps build confidence in children.  Knowing Mom and Dad trust you to make good choices without them is empowering to them.  But more importantly, it gives them real-world experiences.  Not one house is the same, not one human is the same.  This opens the door to some really wonderful conversations.

6)      Volunteer: Generation Z is known for a passion for social justice.  But, they are also known for not following through.  They were taught the issues and a passion was ignited.  But they were not taught the practicality of the hard work, critical thinking, and diligence it takes to make a change.  Simply posting a meme on social media does not change make.  Teaching volunteering gets to the root of this problem. Volunteering showcases need, teaches work ethic, dependability, and commitment.  It also allows the first-hand experience of need, bureaucracy, and politics.  All those things play large roles in adult life.  Teaching volunteering at a young age starts a healthy foundation for these areas that can easily become toxic later if not healthy discussed.

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7)      Students keep track of their own work and test: It is great to know about your child’s schoolwork.  But their work is not your work.  You already went to school.  You already know it.  Don’t do their work for them.  Set them up to succeed.  We use this great Student Smart Planner Academic Planner (I use the Wordsworth Goal Setting Planner for myself) for our home school (it has places for long term projects, schedules, grade tracking, and monthly and weekly calendars).  For younger kids, this is a great planner as well. For those in school, we used a checklist morning and night for our son to know what was needed each morning and what was completed. 

8)      Organize your own schedule: Today in America we are socially judged by the number of activities our child is in.  We are told kids need perfect grades and extracurriculars out the ears to get to college. Our kids are tired, stressed out, and overwhelmed.  A great documentary on this is Race to Nowhere.  Let’s give our children the power to decide what extracurriculars they do – if any.  Some kids might need extra time for school.  Some kids might want three or four a week.  Some might just want to do one thing they can learn to do really well.  Let’s stop making Jack-of-all-trades-and-masters-of-none.

9)      Independent Thinkers: Kids need to learn how to think – not just memorize facts.  Set them to succeed in this by encouraging independent and critical thinking.  Let them learn about themselves and how they learn.  ReadTheory helps kids in reading comprehension, Learning Styles is a great place to learn about how your child learns.  When you know how you learn, you equip yourself with the ability to better learn the more difficult skills and academics.

10)   Entertain Yourself: You are a parent – not a Hollywood movie star or singer-songwriter.  You were charged with raising compassionate, intelligent children into wonderful adults.  You were not charged with being your child’s friend, entertainment, and all-around everything.  Release yourself of that stress.  Teach you, child, to entertain themselves.  This is critically important to brain development, social play, and creative and critical thinking.  It is also entertaining to you as a parent to see what they come up with.

Key to Unlocking the Mystery

Your life does not get better by chance. It gets better by change.

Jim Rohn

When people learn that, especially those with special needs children, I am immediately asked what we did to help him? Was it the medication? Was it diet? Was it therapy?  The answer is teamwork.

It is a process, like all parenting.  No one expects their five-year-old to do laundry.  No one expects their sixteen-year-old to sign a loan.  It is a process of teaching and learning on both sides of the parenting aisle. 

Track Changes

It is really easy to share about the rough days in the lives of special needs.  But all that does is focus on the negative and does not act toward a solution.  Maybe it is the researcher in me, or maybe it is my determination to understand the why, or maybe it is my sheer stubbornness, but I was determined to not let my child use his diagnosis as a crutch.  And I was not going to let the world do that either.

But, when your kid cannot talk at age five, you might think this is not possible.  I am can confidently say it does not have to be.

The first thing I am always told is that is way too much work. And if you approach it like that, you may find it is. But I did not. In total, once I had a system, it took about 15 minutes a day…and the data was AMAZING!

Here is how it was done and some lessons we learned:

STEP ONE: Get Everyone on Board

This is probably the hardest step.  When you think about it, you leave your kids in the hands of others sometimes up to 40 hours a week.  This could be a teacher, an aide, a therapist, a Sunday School teacher, or a babysitter.  Everyone is different and so what is considered bad behavior for one may be tolerable or expected behavior to another. It is essential to get everyone on the same page.

We developed an easy light system, much like a street light, that could be used in all locations.  Because it could be used in all locations, our son knew what was expected from him at all times.

The Color System

There are four colors and the frequency of use changes with age and need.  When we started at age five, our son had the opportunity to earn 15 blues a day.  We believe in grace – no one has a perfect day every day.  To that end, we always allow a place for imperfection.  When he was younger, our son could earn 10 blues and greens and still earn whatever incentive he was working for. Now, there are certain actions that automatically mean he loses his incentive but he also has fewer chances to earn things. We break the day up by activity now not by the hour.

Before we get too far, let me explain what an incentive is and is not. 

An incentive is NOT a bribe.  A bribe is a reward given in extreme frustration to a child misbehaving.  An incentive is a reward given in a contract.  I will do an entire blog on this next, but for now, this should get you where you need to go.

Breaking up the day by activity and time helps understand what topics and times of day may need more or less attention

Here are the colors:

Blue: This is beyond what you would expect from a child – excellent behaviors, no reminders, best kid you ever met. This would be an A+ student.

Green: Exactly what you would expect from a child.  Nothing too bad and nothing too good. This would be a B/A student.

Yellow: Walking a dangerous path.  Perhaps you need to give some warnings.  Perhaps there is an attitude creeping into the child’s tone.  This is your warning.  This would be C student.

Red: Game over! This behavior is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.  This is an F student.

The color system is easy to explain to other adults and is easy to teach to your child.  

Seeing at glance improvement over time helps bring scope and value to the progress made

How do you keep track during those times you are not with your kids?

We used a grid system of school subject, time of day and days of the week.  We found this was easy for the provider or teacher to be able to communicate to us how the day went without having to write a book.

On the back of our weekly grid was any comments the aide, teacher, or babysitter wanted to provide with why they chose that color or any specific good or bad behavior of which we needed to be aware.

I then kept all of these in a three-ring binder divided by school year.  Once a month I would count up the blues, greens, yellows, and reds and have a clear indication of which direction my child was going.  This also helped when speaking with occupational, speech and ABA therapists to help see what times of days and what subject’s in school were more problem areas and where we could spend less time and focus.

STEP TWO: Track A-B-C Behavior

A-B-C behavior is your lifesaver! This data tells you so much about your child from what they like or dislike to how they may be physically feeling to how smart they are.

What is it?  Antecedent, behavior, consequence.  I will spend more time on this is a future blog on ABA therapy, but here is what you need to know to get started. 

I used a chart of date and time with A-B-C.

This helped me track where trouble times of the day may be (like right before bed or end of the week due to exhaustion) or certain activities which may be frustrating to my kiddo (like math and homework at the end of the day). 

What are some antecedents?  Transitions, change in routine, a difficult task (anything from buttoning clothes to multiplying fractions – wherever your kid is) can all be antecedents.  This is what occurs prior to the behavior you are seeing.  This is super helpful when communicating with other adults, especially babysitters, so they can know how better to help your kiddo,

Behavior is simply that – what behavior did your child exhibit?  Was he eloping? Was he hurting himself or others?  Was he not doing work (avoiding what was requested of him)?  What action took place?

Consequence is essential.  This goes hand in hand with incentives.  The key to a good consequence is that it is known in advance and is followed through on consistently.  CONSISTENTLY.  If this is not consistent, everything is lost!

For adults, we know if we steal, we go to jail. This is a law.  This is not just a law on books, it is common law – do not steal or you go to jail.  You know the consequence in advance.  If you steal one time, you go to jail (when the system works correctly).  When you steal again, you go to jail.  The rules do not change and the consequences do not change.  We, as humans, respond best to consistency.  It is essential the consequences are communicated to the child, the caregiver, and your partner and you are on the same page.  If your kid can get away with task avoidance with Dad and not Mom, this will not work. 

Tracking this information is essential to not only understand your child and what makes them tick but helps you as a parent teach self-control, responsibility, and rule of law (which every society everywhere has some form).  This also, over time, makes your life parenting much easier.  No more repeating yourself.  No more fighting with your kiddo.  This allows them to start feeling independent.

Grid of time and date, next colum initials of who saw behavior, Antecedent, Behavior and Consequence are the next three columns
Seeing what is the antecedent helps to discover how to help solve problems we cannot see.

STEP THREE: Track What You Eat

This may sound a bit absurd, but believe me, it is more helpful than a pedestrian visit.  When we started tracking what our kiddo ate, we could see and anticipate behavior.

My mom used to make the most incredible cakes for our birthdays…all our eight birthdays a year.  And every time one of us kid had a birthday, my mom would get sick.  It took forever for the doctors to figure out what was happening until they tracked the ingredients she used in the frosting of the cake.  She was allergic, but did not know it.  Tracking the daily helped the doctors (and my mom) to figure out the problem.

We decided to not wait for a doctor to tell us to do this.  We just started to do it.  What we discovered changed our lives.

When our son eats dairy, any dairy, within 24 hours to the minute, he is having behavior problems.  This was essential information when he could not speak.  But it also helps us now that he can.  Our son is not allergic to dairy, but he cannot physically process it.  This leads to stomach aches and headaches which leads to less focus, patience, and acceptance in situations that may otherwise be easy to handle for him. 

How did we discover this?  We tracked his meals.  Every day for two years.  We saw the trend at six months, but did a full two-year study for certainty.  And because data is indispensable.  This essential data has come in handy when talking to his therapists, pediatrician, allergist, and teachers.  It has also helped create a much more calm home environment. 

This is super easy now with apps for food tracking (just google a play store app for a diet and millions pop up). 

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STEP FOUR: Pray

Many of you know I am Christian.  I think God played (and continues to play) a large role in the success of my family.  From the day my son came into my life, I have prayed for him.  I have prayed for healing.  I have prayed he has control over his emotions.  I have prayed he has a heart for obedience and compassion for others. 

Most of these things a child on the spectrum, especially those that cannot express themselves, have trouble with.  There were days our son would hit, kick, scream and bite because he could not tell us his stomach hurt or that he did not like the texture of a food.  Simple things to those with the gift of language. 

It can be, often is, and has been over-whelming. 

But I have learned specific prayers get specific answers.  Within a year of praying my son could speak in complete sentences.  Though we still have spitting and kicking outbursts, the frequency of these has decreased dramatically – from constant throughout the day to maybe once to twice a month in four years.

Though I know not all follow my God, I highly recommend prayer or mediation of some kind.  I have found it to not only calm me but has allowed me to approach problems from outside of them not stuck in the middle of them.

                What we Have Learned

Data is key to understanding your child, especially if they are non-verbal.  It can be easier than you think with grids and check-boxes.  It takes less time than you think with apps and only 10 to 15 minutes a day.  It brings more peace, calm, and happiness to your child because you understand them more, but also to your home.

Do not feel over-whelmed.  Do what you can do and let the rest fall by the way-side.  Not every kid is the same and not every kid will respond the same way.  I do highly recommend, above all else, consistency in your home with both praise and consequences. 

Your life does not get better by chance. It gets better by change.Jim Rohn

When people learn that, especially those with special needs children, I am immediately asked what we did to help him? Was it the medication? Was it diet? Was it therapy?  The answer is teamwork.

It is a process, like all parenting.  No one expects their five-year-old to do laundry.  No one expects their sixteen-year-old to sign a loan.  It is a process of teaching and learning on both sides of the parenting aisle.