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Teaching kids responsibility at school

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Last minute school supplies

It's 8:15PM. Dinner dishes have been put away. Pajamas are being pulled from dresser drawers. The evening is winding down. All of a sudden, Alfs says, "Mom, I need you to go get me some paint. I need it for school tomorrow." And just like that, the house is thrown into a tizzy.

Complaining Child

It's happened to you, too. I know it has. The last minute demand to acquire something for school for the very next day. No matter how the next few minutes or hours or even days play out, these moments put me in a quandary. I don't want to be responsible for my child not having something necessary for their education, but I do want to take an opportunity to teach about responsibility and respect for the family. Nine times out of ten, I do not make a special trip to procure said items.

Get the whole picture

After hyperventilating for a moment or two, it's time to ascertain the whole situation. Time for some questions of my beloved first-born;
  1. What, exactly, is needed?
  2. How long have you known about this?
  3. Have you looked around the house for this item?

The answer to #1 is almost incidental to the remainder of the questions. If the answer to #2 is, "Just today," and the answer to #3 is, "No," then the next thing out of my mouth is, "Then go think about how you might have approached this situation more constructively and go to bed. We'll talk about it tomorrow."

Natural consequences are a great thing

My experience with my kids' schools is that they rarely, if ever, need some special item that quickly. The teachers are a respectful lot and give several days notice of particular needs. They also try not to develop projects that require particularly obscure items that one might have a difficult time finding. If my kid comes to me and says, "I need it tomorrow!" and only learned of this need today - well, I'm quite sure it can wait a day or so. I can pick it up the next time I run errands.

If, however, my kid has known about it for several days, and comes to me at the last minute, then too bad. It's going to have to wait a day or two; I am most definitely not going out late on a cold Sunday night to find whatever it is. I can pick it up the next time I run errands. My child will have to accept the consequences at school and at home - and that includes yet another talk about respect for each other, for time, and for resources.

Exceptions to every rule

There have been times, I admit, that I have forgotten to pick up some needed item. The kids did as I ask - gave me sufficient notice and searched home supplies first - yet, still I forgot. In those situations I will make a special trip. Only once have I been unable to acquire the needed item and had to send a note in to school. Those are *my* natural consequences.

There also have been a couple of occasions when my child has plain forgotten. Truly, unintentionally forgotten. Usually I can see it in his eyes and can hear it in the tone of his voice. I try to be somewhat flexible in those situations - we're all human after all! I might make a special trip while trying to instill the idea that this can't be a regular thing. I'm not a totally mean mom. Most of the time, anyway.

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