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Monday Mom challenge: Let your child feel the consequences

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...

Teaching kids life lessons

We all, as part of our parenting, need to teach our children important lessons about personal responsibility and choices. Too often, though, it's hard to watch a child learn that lesson and so easy to step in - so we do. And then no lesson is learned at all. Maybe we think we've taught some of the lesson, but what they've really learned is that Mom or Dad will always be there to catch them.

Sad boy with backpackAs much as I like to think I don't do this, really I do. Sometimes it's my own willpower that is weak; I know I should sit back and let natural consequences occur, but I don't. I love my kids and I don't want to see them upset - and I could so easily fix it. It's a push and pull inside me. It's a challenge to me to let my child learn by these "natural consequences;" maybe it is for you, too.

When an important thing is lost

Recently we had a situation where my middle child "lost" his binder. I realized I had an opportunity to really help my son learn the lesson, so I resolved to break my own bad habit and not step in. It was a hard 45 minutes for all of us.

My son declared his binder "lost" half and hour before bedtime on a Sunday night. I'd asked him at least a dozen times through the course of the day to get his backpack - including binder - together for school Monday morning. When, just before bed, he could not find his binder, I sat quietly. I realized this was as good a chance as any. We were still early in the school year and there were no tests or projects affected, his teacher this year is strict and wants to make an effort to push personal responsibility and organization - and I knew the binder was not really lost. It was somewhere in the house, and it was a as good an opportunity to drive home this lesson as I was likely to find.

After a couple of minutes of light, half-hearted looking, my son became a little more panicked. Soon it was a full-fledged meltdown, his inner drama queen pouring out. And I sat tight. It may sound cruel - but it was not my binder, and it was not my responsibility. Besides, he never asked for help, just started whining and panicking. I did make some suggestions for being more thorough in his search, but those were dismissed.

Crisis management

After a certain amount of time during which my son puttered and cried, hoping an adult would step in and find it for him, I declared the search over and it was time for him to get in bed. He wailed harder; he knew he would be marked down at school the next morning when his teacher saw he didn't have his binder. I wanted to, but I didn't give in.

Instead, once he was in bed we talked about what to do next, what his options were. He was still teary, but I could see that he understood the bigger issue. He decided he would get up early to look for the binder, and if he could not find it, he would write a letter to his teacher explaining what had happened and how he intended to address the situation so that it didn't happen again once he did locate his binder. I reassured him that he would find it, reminded him of his responsibility toward school, kissed him and let him go to sleep.

It was hard to watch my son so upset. It would have been so much easier to help him find the binder and head off his anxiety, but he wouldn't have learned anything in the process. My son did find his binder the next morning (much to the relief of all of us, really), and he has been much, much better about keeping his backpack organized and together since then.

I'm sure this is not the last time we'll have to address this issue, but I do think we all learned a lesson in the process. My son learned about responsibility and organization in a very tangible way, and I learned that it's not mean to allow my child to learn a lesson this way. We're both better for it.

For more on teaching kids responsiblity:

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