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Being Responsible- Our lives are determined by the choices we make
Happiness is up to us
Do we want to be loved and respected for our wealth, our family connections, our achievements, or by who we really are? Many, many people, who seem to be extremely successful, are desperately unhappy. People who seem to have everything they want or need often turn to drugs, or even commit suicide. If these people are not happy, how can anyone be happy?
Luckily, psychologists have had the answer to happiness for a long time: we can choose to be happy. However, it is not always that simple.
We always have a choice
Children and, in particular, teenagers, often feel powerless- someone else always seems to be making their choices for them. Effective families (and effective schools) give children choices in their lives. Children learn to observe the world around them, have conversations with people, and make choices. They learn that not doing something is also a choice.
How do children learn this? Always telling a child what to do is not likely to teach them about choices. Children need alternatives to choose from, and need to be aware of where their choices will lead. Therefore, parents who ask for their child's opinion about things, or understand their child's perceptions about the world, are in a good position to guide their choices. Asking questions, which result in a child thinking about their choices, is the first step in creating a happy, responsible child.
With choice, comes responsibility
Happy, effective people take responsibility for their choices. They are aware that every action, or inaction, has consequences. Sometimes, some consequences are difficult to predict. However, it is the individual's choice that leads to the consequences.
For example, if someone is late for a meeting, the consequence for the other people, already at the meeting, is that they are kept waiting. Maybe a business deal is lost, because a client, waiting, did not want to work with someone they considered to be thoughtless about others. It does not matter why the person was late. The other people at the meeting know only that they were kept waiting. The major responsibility for the loss of the deal belongs to the person who was late, even if it was because of a traffic jam.
An example of inaction is when people remain silent to protect themselves from the consequences of their actions. This is common in criminal trials in courts, but often happens in schools, and in the home, with children. Many children learn that they can get away with behaving inappropriately by saying nothing (or denying everything). However, these children grow into adults who are emotionally unhealthy.
When children grow up in emotionally-safe homes, and are taught in emotionally-safe classrooms, they learn that, in the long term, it is better to accept the consequences of their actions than live with the fear of eventually being found out. To teach them this, we consider that "there are no mistakes, only learning experiences". Therefore, children need to be taught how to predict the consequences of their actions. When parents can control the consequences, they should ensure that the child can learn, and that, if a consequence is not positive, the child can recover afterwards.
An example is a child forgetting to clean up their room. A logical consequence is that they clean up their room, at a time that is not convenient to them: They learn that cleaning up their room is not a choice, but when they clean up their room is. If the consequence of the child not cleaning their room is that they have to clean up their room at an inconvenient time, it was the child's choice, not the parent's.
We need to make good our mistakes
If we inconvenience, or hurt someone, we should apologize. However, just quickly saying "Sorry", by itself, is not enough. Taking action so that there is less chance of repeating the mistake is the only way to be genuinely sorry.
It takes strong character to genuinely say "Sorry", and a key factor in children learning this is how adults around them behave. Parents and teachers have the responsibility of modeling "fixing things up" when the consequences of their actions are not what they intended. Parents, in particular, should always apologize when they act in haste, or in anger. Choices that are made when we are in a hurry, or angry, are unlikely to be our wisest, and we must be prepared to fix things up, not just with our family, but with anybody.
We have to pay attention to how we are
The best way to improve our choices is to pay attention to how we are. This means that we are aware of our emotional state. Are we happy, healthy, calm, or stressed, impatient, and busy? Which condition will lead to wiser choices? It is just as important to be aware of all other people around us. Every other human being is just like us (trying to make the best of their life) and they deserve our respect and attention. When we model this for our children, we give them the basis for making wise life choices. They can learn that their choices have consequences for other people, as well as themselves.
A common example is a young person who wants to impress his friends by driving his car fast. If everything goes to plan, they arrive safely at the end of the journey. seemingly impressed with their friend's skill and bravado. However, all too often, the newspapers report car crashes in which several young people were killed. The driver, of course, did not intend to kill his/her friends, but it was his/her responsibility. The friends also had a responsibility to tell their friend to slow down. Using stories like this, particularly when they are real stories, can help children to use more information and awareness when making life choices.
To help children be aware of themselves, and of others around them, we should ask them questions. The basic question is "What are the possible consequences of your choice if it does not turn out the way you want?" In the story, above, the driver wants the thrill of a fast journey, and the admiration of his/her friends. However, everybody knows that if you have an accident when you drive fast, you and your friends can be killed. Despite this knowledge, people die from thoughtless choices, often by other people, every day.
We can only do what we can do
There are no guarantees for parents. Human behavior is impossible to predict. Parents who seem to do everything right may still have children who do not follow their lead. This should not stop parents from learning about the things that they can do that are most likely to teach their children to be happy, responsible people.
Happy people know that they have control over their lives. They may not live in the best house, or have the best job, but they choose to be responsible for how they feel about their life. They do not blame others for their situation.
Therefore, as parents, we must give their children choices, and realistic consequences. We should tell our children instructive stories, and point out relevant situations in the world around them. We should model making responsible choices, and remember that nobody is perfect. Most importantly, we should remember that, at the end of the day, our children make their own choices.
Five simple strategies for teaching your child to be responsible:
- As often as possible, give your child choices that have clear consequences.
- Talk with your child about what they have learned from their mistakes.
- Read/tell your child stories that illustrate responsible choices.
- Model saying "Sorry". and show, by your actions, that you really mean it.
- Show your child that you care about other people, and the environment.